Fresh Take Friday: Chaturanga Dandasana

Happy Friday, yogis. Today we’ll take a fresh look at Chaturanga Dandasana, or Four-Limbed Staff Pose. If you’ve ever taken a flowing yoga class, or even a non-flowing class, you may have encountered this ubiquitous pose. Western postural yoga has come to rely heavily on Chaturanga for transitions, and it is often repeated many times within one practice. It is also a pose that has been discussed a lot with regards to safety.

Chaturanga Dandasana is a pose that requires quite a lot of strength and coordination to do well. What happens when you don’t have that strength? Commonly our approach is to do the pose over and over in an attempt to get better at it. We might also hyperfocus on alignment issues such as the position of the shoulders in an attempt to make it safer.

If you don’t feel strong, stable, and controlled going through the movements of Chaturanga Dandasana, you have options.

  1. Don’t do it! You never have to force your body into shapes that aren’t serving you. Never doing Chaturanga is an absolutely valid way to do yoga. It does not make your practice less than. There are many alternate movements you can use instead, or just skip it.
  2. Work on building strength. If you really want to work on Chaturanga, that is also totally valid. It can be a fun and powerful movement, and is definitely going to keep cropping up in a lot of classes. It’s also a really good motivator to build some good upper body strength.

So if you chose Option 2, what can you do to build strength for this pose?

Doing Chaturanga Dandasana repeatedly and hoping to get better isn’t a very effective strategy for building strength. I’m willing to bet there are yogis out there who have been doing this for months or years and are still struggling with this pose. If we look at strategies used for strength training, there are a couple of concepts that are important when we’re trying to get stronger in order to do a yoga pose.

The first of these is managing load. If we are trying to move too much weight, it increases our risk of injury. If we are not moving enough weight, we don’t get stronger. To build tissue capacity effectively, we need to lift the right amount of weight, and then we need to increase it incrementally as we get stronger.

What’s the right amount? Well, it’s not the maximum you can handle. A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to do about 6 to 10 repetitions of a movement, just like you would do in the gym. If you can’t do six in a row, the weight is probably too heavy. If you can do 15, it’s probably too light to be effective.

So how do we apply this to the challenge of Chaturanga Dandasana?

One option is to work on your shoulder strength outside of your yoga practice. There’s a myth that yoga is the perfect activity and has no down sides, but in fact, yogis need cross-training just like anyone else. If gyms are closed in your area or you don’t have childcare (or for a host of other reasons), that might not be the most viable option right now, though.

If you’d like to work on shoulder strength while practicing Chaturanga Dandasana, you’ll need to regress the pose. By “regression”, I’m talking about making the pose easier – until you can do 6- 10 “Chaturanga pushups” with control. In today’s video, I’ll show you one option that anyone can use for working on shoulder strength with Chaturanga Dandasana.

There are definitely other ways you can build more balanced shoulder strength into your asana (postural yoga) practice. For ideas, you can join me for an online group class. For a more intensive focus on the shoulders, I have a private workshop dedicated to this topic. To get an assessment of your movement and personalized tips on building shoulder strength within your asana practice, you can find all the details and submit your workshop request here.

The information, instruction, and advice contained in this video and post are in no way intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content is for general informational purposes only. Not all exercises are suitable for everyone. Consult your doctor before beginning this or any exercise program.

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