Chaturanga Dandasana (also known as low plank), a wildly common pose that is performed multiple times throughout Vinyasa, Ashtanga, and Power yoga classes, requires a lot of strength and can easily cause injuries if done improperly. To make matters worse, many practitioners move through this pose so quickly that there is hardly room to ensure safe alignment.
If you commit to the adjustments laid out below, Chaturanga has many benefits as it strengthens the wrists, arms, shoulders, lower back, and abs – pretty much a full-body toner – that will translate well to all other areas of your practice!
Modify until you build up enough strength.
Chaturanga requires a great amount of full-body strength, and it can be difficult to maintain alignment without it. Please listen to your body, and know that lowering your knees to the ground is more than okay! This is also important to remember as you flow through your yoga class. You may be able to do the first few vinyasas with strong alignment, but don’t hesitate to come down to your knees if you start to feel fatigued.
The alignment for the upper body will remain the same whether you have your knees down or lifted.
Point the tops of your shoulders forward.
When we use the strength of our arms instead of utilizing our bigger back muscles, the tops of our shoulders will roll down. Feel that your back body remains engaged, collar bones stay open and wide across the chest, and the shoulders are locked in place.
Keep the shoulders above or directly in line with the elbows.
When you dip the chest, and therefore the shoulders, lower than the elbows, the tendons and musculature surrounding the rotator cuff become compromised. When performed consistently this way, it can cause an impingement or tear.
The wrists should be directly below the elbows.
When the bones are stacked evenly, the skeletal body works with gravity so you aren’t having to strain your muscles, tendons, or ligaments to compensate. This especially helps to care of your wrists so they don’t over-flex.
From plank you will most likely need to shift forward slightly to achieve this alignment.
Squeeze your elbows in toward your ribs.
By keeping the arms close in to the body, you are able to better brace yourself by having a solid foundation. When the elbows splay out wide, you aren’t able to consolidate your strength and end up putting more pressure than necessary on individual muscles.
Pull your low belly in and up, sending your tailbone toward your heels.
Engaging your core can help lighten the load on the wrists, arms, and shoulders. By reaching your tailbone back, you can extend your spine long, creating solidity throughout the entire upper body. This will call upon your lower back strength to chime in. Stay strong in this area as you keep your front ribs pulled in.
Engage your legs from hips to heels.
Feel your knee caps pull up, causing the quadriceps to engage. Press the quadriceps into the backs of the thighs, engaging through the hamstrings, as you lift the inner thighs up toward the sky. Keep the soles of the feet engaged, from your toes pressing into the earth all the way up through your heels. Engaging your calves can help press your heels more firmly back in space.
Building the physical strength for an aligned Chaturanga Dandasana is just as important as discovering your own mental strength as you perform this intensive pose throughout your practice. Be patient, and be mindful of the strengths and weaknesses within your body, honoring them where you see fit. Now go elevate your flow, and keep your body injury-free!