Chaturanga is a yoga posture that is practiced in several yoga styles, including Vinyasa Flow, Power Yoga, the primary series of Ashtanga Yoga, and in several of the Sun Salutations.
The full name of the posture in Sanskrit is Chaturanga Dandasana, meaning four-limbed staff pose (chatur= four, anga=limb, danda=stick/staff, asana= posture), possibly because when we perform the shape with functional and proper alignment, the length of the spine resembles a staff or rod. Another common name in English for this asana is low plank.
Although it is not a very accessible pose per se, there are chaturanga yoga pose variations that make its benefits available to many practitioners.
In this article you’ll find:
- Benefits of Practicing Chaturanga
- Basic Anatomy of Chaturanga
- Accessing Chaturanga
- Chaturanga yoga prep poses
- Chaturanga yoga cool down poses
- Chaturanga yoga pose variations
Benefits of Practicing Chaturanga
Yoga Asanas are able to not only strengthen your body, but also move the energy within you and help you become more aligned.
Chaturanga Dandasana is a posture that requires practice and dedication and it can benefit your body, mind, and spirit:
Anatomically speaking, Chaturanga will help you:
- activate your toes, feet and ankles
- strengthen your calves, quads, and hips
- increase your abdominal wall and core stability
- support spinal health and alignment
- build strength and stability in your neck, shoulders, arms and hands
- prepare your body for challenging asanas like arm balances and inversions
- improve your posture
- activates the core Bandhas
Energetically speaking, the Chaturanga yoga pose is an invigorating and energizing asana that can increase your stamina, resulting in an enhanced mood and heightened vitality.
Helping you foster equanimity, the chaturanga yoga pose allows subtle energy to support longer holds.
Basic Anatomy of Chaturanga
Chaturanga pose is one that requires full-body strength and stability, and when practiced without basic alignment awareness, it can create stress on the neck, shoulders, wrists, and spine.
As you begin to understand the anatomy of this shape, you will become more aware when practicing it, hence reaping its benefits more fully, supporting yourself, and avoiding injury.
It is considered a transitional posture since it is often sequenced to take us from high plank (phalakasana) to cobra (bhujangasana) or upward facing dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) especially in vinyasa and flow classes as well as a part of some of the Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskara) sequences.
In some practices, the Chaturanga yoga pose may be suggested as a transition multiple times in one sequence, making it very important to learn to practice it with alignment and awareness.
To be able to practice this shape, you must build overall strength and stability throughout your body.
Activated muscles in the upper body:
- serratus posterior
- serratus anterior
- erector spinae
- core muscles
Activated muscles in the lower body:
Chaturanga will certainly warm you up!
When starting to practice Chaturanga yoga pose, it is important to build a strong foundation first that you can build upon as you foster awareness and grow stronger.
To access the shape:
1. Bring yourself to tabletop position, with your hands open and grounded (hasta bandha) right underneath your shoulders and your knees directly underneath your hips.
2. In that posture, take a moment to find a neutral spine, drawing your navel gently toward the spine, and engaging your shoulder blades toward the midline to avoid them from “winging” upward.
3. Step both feet back as you lift your knees from the ground (optional), coming into plank pose.
4. As you extend your heels back, and the crown of your head forward, create a nice strong line from your heels, through your knees, your hips, your shoulders, and all the way up to the crown of your head.
5. Inhale to shift your weight a bit forward, perhaps a bit past your wrists.
6. Exhale, bend your elbows slowly to 90-degrees, and no more than 90-degrees, notice if your shoulders dip down. Actively draw your elbows to the midline.
7. That right there, is your chaturanga yoga pose.
Perhaps hover for a couple of breaths.
Most of the time, from Chaturanga dandasana, you’ll take cobra pose or upward facing dog, whatever suits you most at the time.
**To support yourself a bit more, consider lowering your knees down, keeping the same straight line from the crown of your head down to your knees.
Chaturanga yoga Prep Poses
Prep Poses For the wrists
When developing the strength for chaturanga pose, make sure to pay attention to your hands and wrists. As mentioned above, activating hasta bandha will reduce the risk of injury as well as avoid wrist tenderness and pain during your practice.
Take a few moments to warm up your hands and wrists by
- opening and closing your hands 5-10 times vigorously
- doing wrist flexion and extension exercises
- moving your wrists around in circles
Prep Poses For the Arms and Shoulders
Warming up your arms and shoulders can be achieved by
- Doing shoulder activating poses like puppy pose, thread the needle, and eagle arms.
- practicing a couple rounds of ashtanga namaskara to warm the arms up
- playing with dolphin pose and dolphin plank
- move from plank to chaturanga and back up to plank without dropping your hips several times (with knees down, and then up)
Prep Poses For the Back and Core
Bringing mobility into your spine and awakening the core is an important part of preparing for Chaturanga.
- warm up with the six movements of the spine; pratapana
- practice navasana, plank pose, and dolphin plank to begin to explore the proper alignment of your spine as you awaken your core
- take a few rounds of sunbird on each side to challenge your stability and continue to awaken your back and core
- from plank pose, tap your right knee to your right elbow, come back to plank, repeat on other side, and do this several times.
Prep Poses For the Hips, Legs and Feet
Even though the hips are neutral in this position, it is important to feel stable throughout them as well as in your legs, ankles and feet.
- from table top, extend one leg back, keep your toes on the ground, and move back and forth. Repeat with the other leg.
- from table top, extend one leg back, hover your toes, and take a few circles with your ankle one way and then the other. The flex and point your foot a few times before switching sides
Please, give yourself time to warm up, and know that each day you may feel differently, and practice differently; honor yourself!
Chaturanga yoga practice
One of the most common sequences to experience chaturanga pose is this modified Surya Namaskara A;
- Come to the top of your mat into Mountain Pose (tadasana)
- Inhale lift your arms up (urhdva hastasana)
- Exhale fold forward (uttanasana)
- inhale extend your spine (ardha uttanasana)
- exhale step both feet back to plank
- Inhale, shift your weight a bit forward, and lower your knees or keep them lifted
- exhale bend your elbows to 90 degrees for chaturanga dandasana
- inhale extend your arms as you turn to the tops of your feet , lift your chest (upward facing dog)
- Exhale. send your hips up and back for tabletop or downward facing dog
- Inhale, take your dristhi to the top of your mat
- exhale step or float to the top
- inhale, ardha uttanasana
- exhale, to forward fold
- inhale, lift your arms overhead
- exhale, hands in front of your heart for samastitihi
You can repeat this sequence as many times as you would like, perhaps some day exploring the 108 sun salutation practice, or incorporating pranayama like Ujjayi breathing to accompany your practice.
3 Chaturanga Yoga Pose Variations
To explore this shape from a different angle, consider these chaturanga pose variations:
#1: Using a Wall
Stand (or sit) as far from a wall as you need until your arms are stretched right in front of you, and your palms connect firmly with the wall.
Inhale, and on your exhale, bend your elbows back, drawing your elbows towards the midline as your chest lowers toward the wall in front of you.
Once your elbows are about 90 degrees, pause, as you engage mulabandha.
Straighten your arms again on an inhalation.
#2: With Blocks Under Your Shoulders
You can practice this with your knees down or up.
Come to table top and place blocks right in front of your hands, on the highest level. Practice your Chaturanga yoga pose variation letting your shoulders tap the blocks on an exhale, and coming back up to plank or knee plank on an inhale.
#3: With A Block Across Your Hips
To keep your hips from dipping, place a block perpendicularly across your hips and explore the engagement it creates.
Whether you choose to include Chaturanga daily in your practice or you work on it sporadically and with variations, the Chaturanga yoga pose can help you build overall physical strength and support you in the journey toward more physically demanding asanas were you interested in exploring them.
If you’d like a quick practice to help you bring overall strength to your body and with some opportunities to practice your Chaturanga pose, try this free class on Youtube.