If you are a practicing yogi, you know what a sun salutation is – a set of postures linked together in a particular sequence. Although there are slight variations, most sun salutations include plank, chaturanga dandasana, upward facing dog and downward facing dog. Chaturanga dandasana (or 4-limb staff pose) is that tricky transitional pose that occurs between plank and upward facing dog. It takes awareness, alignment and strength to avoid injuring the shoulder joint. The question is, should everyone be using it?
Well, how else can you get to the floor? Sure, you can start in 1/2 plank or ardha phalakasana to make the transition easier. However, it still takes good alignment and overall strength to get safely to the floor. It also requires full body awareness – and that is the key.
Here are some steps to start building the full body awareness you need to master the elusive chaturanga dandasana:
First, start at the wall. This is where you will perfect your alignment. Stand facing a wall about a foot or two away. Place your hands at shoulder level and practice bending the elbows close to your sides to lower your body toward the wall. Check, via a mirror or with someone else, to see that you are maintaining a “plank” or even alignment from your head to your heels. Your hips should remain in line with your torso and your spine should stay in its neutral position. This requires core awareness.
Second, transfer this same movement to a chair. Placing your hands shoulder width apart and, using the same alignment as above, bend the elbows close to your sides as you lower the body toward the chair seat. If this is too difficult, search out an alternative surface that is slightly higher, like a countertop or ledge – just make sure it’s sturdy and stable. The most important lesson here is that you start to educate the legs/feet to carry weight by pressing the heels away from your head. This version will also allow you to begin lengthening through the crown of your head so that the entire body can participate in the pose.
Third, try plank pose or phalakasana with your heels at the wall. Find a place where you can stretch your body out and line yourself up so that your heels are pressing into a wall with your toes curled under. Hold the pose for as long as you can maintain the integrity of the posture. Don’t worry about moving toward the floor at this point. Just work on keeping the core engaged so that the hips stay in line with the rest of the body.
Once you have generated the full body awareness, core, legs and crown are participating fully, then you can move from 1/2 plank to the floor. However, this variation can also be challenging because the lower body doesn’t have to participate as it should. Remain aware and try to transition downward with the chest leading the way. Releasing the hips first will only stress the lower back over time.
If you find that you still don’t have the strength to make it down to the floor, focus on moving from plank to downward dog until you build the awareness and strength to safety incorporate chaturanga into your sun salutation.
Good luck and let me know how it goes…