With all the benefits of Power Yoga, there’s no reason to suffer shoulder injuries if you follow a few easy steps to ensure proper shoulder alignment in Chaturanga Dandasana.
What is Chaturanga Dandasana?
Chaturanga Dandasana or Four-Limbed Staff Pose, also known as Low Plank, is a Yoga asana, in which a straight body parallel to the ground is supported by the toes and palms, with elbows at a right angle. The name comes from the Sanskrit words chatur meaning “four”, anga meaning “limb”, danda meaning “staff”, and asana meaning “posture” or “seat”. Danda refers to the central “staff” of the body, also known as the spine, which supports the body.
In Chaturaṅga Daṇḍāsana the hands and feet are on the floor, supporting the body, which is parallel to and lowered toward, but not touching, the floor. It looks much like a push up, but with the hands quite low (just above the pelvis), and the elbows kept in along the sides of the body creating a 90° angle. When done properly, it can help prepare the body for arm balance asanas by strengthening important muscles and promoting good form.
Common Mistakes in Chaturanga Dandasana
First, don’t lower your body below the height of your elbows. Bending your elbows to 90° requires more than enough strength to support your body weight and give you a very good workout. Secondly, avoid sticking your buttocks up. The word “danda” means staff and your body should look like a strong staff when lowered to the level of your elbows. Lastly, avoid sagging the belly towards the ground. This will cause your core to lose integrity and possibly weaken or injure your lower back.
Getting into Chaturanga Dandasana Properly
Always think about what direction your elbows face. If you draw your elbows too close to your ribs as you lower yourself to chaturanga. (See pictures below) I will have a picture of my left shoulder & elbow joint from above beside a picture of a skeleton with its elbow bent the same way here. Pay attention to whether the upper head of the humerus bone (upper arm bone) sticks out away from the scapula/shoulder joint. Doing so may cause undue stress on the anterior shoulder joint muscles including the subscapularis (one of the rotator cuff muscles), the deltoid, biceps brachii and the pectoralis major (chest) muscles. These muscles cross over the front of the shoulder joint and may over-stretch when the humerus is too far away from the joint.
Photos: The images on the left represent proper alignment in chaturanga. Photos are placed alongside the picture of the skeletal graphic for comparison. The image to the right represents when the elbows are too close to the ribcage, causing the shoulder joint to lose integration and rotate outwards.
In proper alignment, the elbows sit slightly away from the body. Notice how the head of humerus bone (upper arm bone) sits at a protected angle nearer the scapula, keeping the anterior shoulder muscles from being overstretched, and allowing you to use full strength while avoiding injury.
To build more strength and ensure proper alignment, start off practicing in a modified chaturanga with your knees on the ground to safely build the core and upper body strength needed to fully support your body weight. Remember to avoid putting your elbows under your rib cage to support your body weight in chaturanga. Instead, use your core and upper body strength to avoid future shoulder injury.
The benefits of yoga come with a consistent practice over time. Ask some folks who have stuck with it for more than a year – they’ll tell you that along with the strength and balance they’ve gained, their practice surprised them by positively reaching into all aspects of their life off the mat. I couldn’t agree with them more. In fact, that’s why I dedicated so much of my life to building my practice.
Lastly, one of the ironies of practicing yoga is that it’s a personal practice and has no competitive qualities. It’s all about building your own practice – one that works for your body. Yet at the same time, remember that you have the entire support of your yoga community!
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