Ah, Chaturanga Dandasana ... as one the most challenging movements in yoga, it's also one that's notoriously performed incorrectly most often. So why is it that so many yogis struggle with this pose? The key is building up enough arm strength, so that the hips and chest stay lifted as you lower down, while the elbows stay hugged in at your sides.
Often called the "low pushup," Chaturanga (aka Four-Limbed Staff Pose) proves tricky without a solid core and well-developed shoulder and arm muscles. But a proper Chaturanga in your practice is within reach — here are eight common poses we practice in yoga, designed to build up enough strength over time to master the art of Chaturanga. Plus, your arms will look great too.
As always, before you begin any practice, warm up with a few rounds of Cat/Cow and/or Sun Salutations. You can practice these poses sequentially, or even on their own. Pay attention to the modifications and adjustment cues — they will only help you develop the strength and alignment you'll need to really succeed in this pose.
Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
A pose that requires as much arm strength as it does core, when done correctly, Downward Facing Dog develops some serious upper body muscles.
Begin on your hands and knees, then tuck the toes and lift the hips up high until your body forms the shape of an upside-down "V." Press into all four corners of your palms to engage the arm muscles. Feel the heads of the arm bones began to rotate outward. This will help shift your weight down the body and into your hips, taking some of that pressure off your wrists.
Reach your heels down toward the mat, only allowing the soles of your feet to touch if your hamstrings allow. Drop your head so the neck is lengthened.
Breathe here anywhere for 5-to-10 deep breaths.
Adapted from How To Do Downward Dog, by Amy Jirsa.
In Plank Pose, you're toning your arms and shoulders as engage your core and hold yourself at the top of a push up. The shoulder blades activate at the back of the core and hug into the spine to support your back.
With hands and knees shoulder-width apart and fingers spread wide, keep the toes tucked under. Wrists are no further back than shoulders, and fingers grip the mat while the shoulders hug into their sockets as you reach the sternum forward.
To modify, you can lower to your knees as you build up arm strength. Otherwise, keep the knees lifted and straighten the legs without letting the hips sag. Keep the legs active with the heels pressing toward the back of the mat. Your neck stays soft as you reach through the crown of your head with your gaze down at the floor.
Adapted from Build An Awesome Core With This 10-Minute Yoga Sequence, by Sasha Taylor North
Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
Begin by laying on your belly with your hands pressed into the mat, slightly above your shoulders. Inhale and slowly lift your torso, keeping the tops of the thighs rooted to the earth.
Drop your shoulders away from the ears and let them slide down the back. Keeping the elbows slightly bent, lift through the collarbones and chest as you send your gaze up toward the sky.
Optional: hover your hands off of the ground and use your lower back to lift the upper body away from the ground.
Remember to relax the lower back and keep the back of the neck long. Arch the upper back, attempting to move from the thoracic spine rather than the lumbar or cervical spine. Always pause when you find yourself in this pose and breathe deeply.
Adapted from How To Get The Most Out Of Cobra Pose, by Cori Martinez
Photo: An Energizing Sequence To Invigorate Your Winter Practice, by Amy Lynch
Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
The biggest difference between Cobra Pose and Upward Facing Dog is that the thighs are really lifted off of the mat. From laying on your belly, slide the hands directly underneath of the shoulders. Keep pressing through the palms and engage the arms to help straighten them. Lift the heart toward the sky and begin to send the gaze overhead, mindful to not throw the head back. For most yogis, the chin remains parallel to the mat while the gaze lifts.
You should feel a nice C-shape curve throughout the spine, feeling the greatest backbend at the cervical spine, just at the base of the neck. Feel the external rotation of the arm bones as you spread through the collar bones. Press the tops of the feet into the mat and spread your toes.
Adapted from 5 Ways To Advance Your Upward Dog, by Jennifer White
Photo: Getty Images
Dolphin Pose (Makarasana)
Begin in Downward Dog and then lower to your forearms as you continue to shift your hips up and back.
Point the tailbone straight up to the ceiling, relax your head and draw the shoulders away from the ears. As you press your chest toward the thighs, spread your hands wide or alternatively, interlace your hands together while staying on the forearms. As you build up forearm strength here, you can take some of the weight off the arms by engaging your core as well.
Hold for 10 deep breaths.
Adapted from 5 Basic Yoga Poses To Make You Feel Fantastic In 15 Minutes, by Nora Tobin
Forearm Plank Pose
Lie on your stomach resting on your forearms. Align your forearms with your shoulders and your shoulders directly over your elbows. Check to see that your wrists line up with your elbows. Make sure that your hands face straight forward and that your palms are flat.
Curl your toes under, inhale, and on your exhale, elevate your whole body — but leave your forearms and balls of your feet on the ground.
You should feel and execute a straight line from the crown of your head to your heels. This means that you need to lengthen your tailbone towards your knees and lift your abs in towards your spine (this is activation of the deepest transverse abdominal muscles). Soften your upper back to iron out any curvature of your spine. Make sure that your legs are straight.
Start with 10 to 30 seconds a day (depending on your starting strength). Every two to three days, add 15 more seconds until you are able to hold forearm plank for two minutes.
Adapted from 4 Yoga Poses For Sexy Arms, by Julie Wilcox
Side Plank Pose (Vashistasana)
From Plank Pose, lift your hips up slightly, then shift your weight into one hand as you roll your whole body open to the side. Stack your hips, knees, and ankles vertically on top of each other. Your shoulders, hips and ankles should be in one straight line. Reach your top arm straight up, forming a line from your planted wrist through your top fingers.
To make balance easier, rather than stacking your feet on top of each other, simply leave your feet where they were in your plank as your roll open to the side. The foot of your top leg will end up in front of your other foot, giving you a more solid base.
You can also rest your lower knee on the ground until you have built up enough arm and shoulder strength. Hold for 3 to 5 breaths and switch sides.
Adapted from Side Plank Pose: How-to, Tips, Benefits, by Michael Taylor
Photo: Getty Images
Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)
Now you're ready to really go for it! Start from Plank Pose with your hands under your elbows and elbows under the shoulders. Pull in your abdominals and low ribs and keep the core engaged. With your thighs pushing up and heels pushing back, hug all your muscles into the midline of the body.
Next, roll WAY forward on your toes — even more than you think you should. (This ensures you will lower down with your arms in a 90 degree angle.)
Now begin to lower down until your arms form 90 degrees and stop just at that point. Keep your core VERY engaged just as in plank — with abdominals and ribs really pulled in.
HUG your elbows into the sides of your body and keep the tops of your shoulders pulled back away from your ears and pointing straight forward, not drooping down.
Broaden through the chest, inviting your clavicles to "smile."
For an extra challenge, push back up to Plank Pose (aka high pushup) and then lower again through Chaturanga (low pushup). Repeat up to five times.
Adapted from How To Do Chaturanga The Right Way, by Sherin Bual