Wednesday, July 2, 2014

NYY's Pose of The Month: JULY

Chaturanga Dandasana: Four-Limbed Staff Pose

If you've taken a vinyasa class, you've done chaturanga dandasana (also known as four-limbed staff pose). Or you've sort of done it, because you're not exactly sure what it is. Or you've skipped it entirely because you think it's too hard or you don't have the strength. Let's set this straight! Chaturanga is neither complicated nor impossible for most mortals, but yes, it IS hard. It takes practice, patience, and keen body awareness. Since it's often done for one breath only during the vinyasa flow (downward-facing dog --> plank --> chaturanga --> upward-facing dog --> downward-facing dog), I find it doesn't get its fair share of attention in many group classes. There's a tendency to rush through it.

Chaturanga isn't sexy. You don't see it on fancy Instagram pictures. But it's powerful. I like powerful more than flashy. A strong, well-aligned chaturanga helps tone the entire body: shoulders, arms, belly, legs, back, and feet. It promotes stability and poise, being comfortable in one's skin even if circumstances may be difficult. It's also a great preparation for arm-balancing poses such as bakasana (crow/crane) and inversions such as tripod headstand (sirsasana II), among many others. 

We usually come into chaturanga from plank pose, in which legs and arms are straight but never locked, shoulders are over wrists, heels press back, and collarbones broaden. As you lower down, it's of utmost importance to bend your elbows straight back and not out to the sides. This protects the delicate shoulders and elbows over time. Lower down just until the point where your arms are bent at right angles, upper arms parallel with the floor. 

Hover here in this halfway-down suspension. Imagine shortening the space between the pubic bone and belly button and moving the inner groins back and up (these are moves you probably won't see, but you'll feel them energetically). Keep hugging the elbows in so your upper arms graze your torso. Gaze just slightly forward, down the tip of your nose, without dropping the chin or creasing the back of the neck. Make sure the tops of the shoulders point forward rather than down, and the derriere neither sinks nor pikes up higher than the back of the head.

If the above paragraph sounds like crazy talk, start with some modifications. You can follow the above directions, but lower your knees to the mat rather than extending the legs straight behind you. Stay mindful there. Don't let the belly push out, sway in the lower back, or round the upper back. Another nice option is to lower all the way to the mat through knees, chest, and chin, or in one movement, with elbows pointing straight back, and from there come to upward dog or a low cobra. These modifications help strengthen you for chaturanga. 

If you have acute shoulder or wrist injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, limit or avoid practicing chaturanga and ask your teacher for more guidance.

It might take months or years before you feel comfortable in the full expression of the pose. Take your time and keep working. In the words of Sri Pattabhi Jois, "Practice, and all is coming." 

Written by: Cara Anselmo

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