Chaturanga Dandasana is a challenging pose. Many yoga students, particularly beginners, just collapse, or immediately drop to their knees when faced with this “hovering stick pose.”
The pose requires strength, but also coordination– the body needs to learn an internal sequence. This exercise builds strength in the triceps, pecs and long spinal muscles as well as triggers the internal energetic link between hips and head. For the past month I have been teaching this strength prep to my students. I learned it from Senior Iyengar instructor Karin Stephan, who studied with B.K.S. Iyengar in the 70s. She is always inspiring and very knowledgeable. I am grateful for her instruction.
You will be on your belly, on your mat. But first, place a folded blanket under your shins. The blanket should not press up against the shin but rather provide a soft cushion for the area from kneecap to ankle. Center yourself on the mat.
1, POSITION HANDS When you’re ready: lift your head slightly. Position your hands by sliding palms down towards your waistline, placing heels of hands as close as possible to your waist and very close to the sides of your body. Fingers are spread wide and point towards your shoulders. Middle fingers are parallel. Elbows point towards the ceiling. Lengthen the spine.
2. PRESSURIZE HANDS Apply equally distributed downwards pressure to the tips of each finger, to the knuckle area under the fingers on the palm side of the hand, and heel of the hand.
3. DROP SHINS Point the toes slightly so that you can press the shins down against the blanket. ( In the picture you see Mr. Iyengar with his toes curled under; It is a bit more advanced prep than this beginner prep I am writing about here. What we are doing by pointing the toes and dropping the shins is bringing awareness to the shin. A BIT MORE: With the toes bent and shins lifted version of prep, the top of the shin bone moves into the center of the kneecap and acts as a sort of turbo-charger for the internal viscera.)
4. SQUEEZE ELBOWS Move the humerus, the bone between the shoulder and elbow, away from the shoulder and towards the elbow while squeezing the elbows towards each other, compressing the upper back, stretching the skin on the upper chest.
5. ROLL ABDOMINAL VISCERA TOWARDS CHIN Imagine rolling an internal marble from navel up to the chin. Lift head slightly. Softly gaze at something eye-level.
Repeat and always remember to remind yourself to press down on the tips of the fingers, under the knuckles and the heel of the hand as you pull elbows together.
( image of B.K.S. Iyengar doing Chaturanga Dandasana)