Want to learn more about Chaturanga Dandasana, aka Four Limbed Staff Pose? In this post, I share the benefits of Chaturanga Dandasana, a complete pose breakdown, contraindications, modifications and more.
Chaturanga Dandasana is a fairly common pose. It is part of most (every?) vinyasa yoga classes and is often repeated several times per class. It is important to keep in mind, however, that it is an advanced pose, even though it is rarely taught as one. It is essential to have proper alignment in Chaturanga to avoid shoulder injuries.
In my early days of being a yoga student, I thought that Chaturanga Dandasana meant something like “now move from Plank Pose into Cobra Pose”. It wasn’t something we held, focussed on, or even really discussed in class.
It turns out, Chaturanga is not only a pose, it is an important pose — and an important pose to learn how to do well! Not only because it comes up again and again in yoga classes but because doing it well leads to all sorts of benefits, while doing it with improper alignment can lead to injury.
- Chaturanga Dandasana Quick Facts
- Chaturanga Dandasana Benefits
- Precautions & Contraindications
- Misconceptions about Four Limbed Staff Pose
- Chaturanga Dandasana Pose Breakdown
- Modifications & Variations
- Yoga Poses Related to Four Limb Staff Pose
- Related Posts & Videos
- Gear & Resources for This Pose
- A Final Note About Four Limbed Staff Pose
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Chaturanga Dandasana Quick Facts
|English||Four Limbed Staff Pose |
It is also sometimes called Low Plank or Push-Up Position
|Meaning||Catur (or Chatur) means four. |
Anga means limb.
(You may recognize this from Ashtanga, which means Eight Limbs.)
Danda is a staff, or walking stick.
Asana means pose or posture.
The pose name translates, therefore, as Four Limbed Staff Pose.
Chaturanga Dandasana Benefits
Note: I only include the scientifically supported benefits of Chaturanga Dandasana here. Plenty of claims about other supposed benefits (from the plausible to the magical to the ridiculous) have been made. To me, pseudo-scientific claims only serve to harm the yoga community, so I choose not to give them airtime here.
The main physical benefits of Chaturanga Dandasana include:
- Strengthens the core.
- Builds strength in the quads.
- Builds strength in shoulders and scapula stabilizers when practiced with proper alignment.
- Great preparation for more arm balances.
- Strengthens biceps and triceps as well as forearm muscles.
- Strengthens pectoralis major.
- Builds flexibility and strength in the wrists.
- Builds strength in back extensors (erector spinae).
- Develops core stability as you work to hold your body straight.
- Prepares body for inversions.
If you want more, see our complete guide to the benefits of yoga, which includes a history of yoga plus the origins of our modern yoga practice and much more.
Precautions & Contraindications
Remember that while yoga is for everyone, not all poses are for all people! If your body requires some extra support in this pose, see the Modifications section below for ideas on how to do this pose safely.
- Avoid the pose if you have a shoulder injury. Wait until you are fully healed before practicing Chaturanga Dandasana.
- Students with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and other wrist, elbow and shoulder issues should practice the pose very carefully and should avoid jumping back into this pose.
- If you have low or high blood pressure, practice Four Limbed Staff Pose with caution.
- If you have a shoulder that dislocates or is otherwise injured, practice this pose with great caution.
- Practice with caution if you have any wrist, shoulder or back injuries.
Misconceptions about Four Limbed Staff Pose
This pose is often taught with a “shift your body forward” instruction when moving from Phalakasana into the pose. I do not teach the pose this way. I teach the entry to this pose as lowering straight down from Plank Pose.
There are a few reasons.
One is that I like to have students hold the pose and treat as its own pose, rather than simply as a transition before Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog).
When I hear the instruction to shift forward, I know we won’t be holding the pose — it will simply be used as a transition on our way to Up Dog or Cobra Pose.
Another reason is that, in my experience, the instruction to shift forward and lower into the pose causes excessive wrist extension, which can be difficult for students. When the wrist extension is difficult or not possible, the most likely “cheat” is for students to round their shoulders so they can move their elbows back, or lift them up, which decreases the wrist extension.
Rounded shoulders in Chaturanga Dandasana are problematic because it can cause injury to the shoulder joint.
Lowering straight down from Phalakasana takes patience, precision, and practice but will be more beneficial to students over time. That’s why I’ll often ask students to lower to Chaturanga and hold for a few breaths before moving on. It’s hard work but it’s worth it for the benefits.
Practicing the pose with precision builds strength in the pectoralis and biceps, as well as scapula stabilizers such as the serratus anterior. All of this helps stabilize the shoulder joints, making injury less likely and other arm balances more accessible.
Chaturanga Dandasana Pose Breakdown
How to do Chaturanga Dandasana / Four Limbed Staff Pose
- Start in Phalakasana (Plank Pose) with your heels over the balls of your feet, and your shoulders over your wrists. Push through your hands and stretch your body straight and strong.
- Tone your belly, keep your legs straight and hips extended, and start to bend your elbows.
- Work to keep your body straight and strong as you lower down. If you can’t hold the straight line, you can bring your knees to the ground.
- As you lower your torso, keep your shoulders lifted and broaden your scapulae so they draw down onto your rib cage. Resist the tendency to squeeze your shoulder blades towards each other, or to let them lift away from your rib cage.
- Bend your elbows until your shoulders are as high as your elbows. This is roughly upper arms parallel to the ground and a 90º angle at your elbow joint. However, we all have slightly different body proportions, so you don’t have to get out your protractor and measure.
- Very slightly lift your chin, instead of letting it draw in towards your chest. Keep broadening your shoulder blades. Widen across your collar bones, stretch your elbows back behind you.
- Push the floor away with your hands and be sure to root down through your index knuckle.
- This is Chaturanga Dandasana.
- The next pose we often practice is Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog Pose) or Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), but you can also move back to Phalakasana or into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog).
Modifications & Variations
If you can’t hold your body straight
If you are learning to hold your body straight in Chaturanga Dandasana, I recommend bringing your knees to the ground in Plank Pose before lowering into Chaturanga Dandasana.
Then, only bend your elbows to the point where you can hold your body off the ground. Don’t go so low that you have to collapse. Over time, practicing it this way will help you build the strength required to bend your elbows all the way to 90º.
If you round your shoulders
Rolling your shoulders forward and down in Chaturanga Dandasana is something you will see other students and even teachers do. This is a product of lack of body awareness, weak pectoralis (chest) muscles, and often poor instruction.
If your shoulders round and drop down towards the ground, it puts a lot of pressure on the front of your glenohumeral joint (shoulder joint). The front of this joint does not have a very good support network of tendons or ligaments, so it is considered “weak”.
Putting your body weight into rounded shoulders in this position can lead to shoulder injury.
To avoid rounding your shoulders forward, place two yoga blocks in front of your hands in Plank Pose. As you lower down, your goal is to avoid touching the blocks with your shoulders by moving the head of your arm bone into your shoulder joint, rather than dropping your shoulders forward onto the blocks.
I often tell students to imagine the blocks are sharp knives or spikes. If this visualization helps you, please use it!
If your shoulder blades lift off your back
If your shoulder blades lift off your back (we call this scapular winging because it makes them look a little like wings), your shoulder blade stabilizers are not being recruited properly to do what they do — stabilize your shoulder blades against your rib cage.
To work against this, in Phalakasana (Plank Pose), push through your hands so that your shoulder blades start to slide away from each other and even move around the sides of your rib cage slightly. This is called protracting your scpaulae and it engages your scapula stabilizers.
Work to keep this action as you lower down into Chaturanga Dandasana.
Note: Some teachers instruct to “bring your shoulder blades together” in Chaturanga Dandasana. This is incorrect alignment. While the shoulder blades will draw towards each other somewhat as you lower down, you want to work against this tendency as much as possible.
If your upper body isn’t strong enough
To build strength in your upper body and core, practice holding Plank Pose and Forearm Plank Pose. Build up your endurance until you can hold these poses for one minute.
Note: See my blog post about Phalakasana (Plank Pose) so that you can learn how to hold the pose without locking in your elbow joint. Learning how this is essential to building strength in your arms in the pose.
If you want to build strength
This is one of those poses where using props can actually make the work more focussed and more difficult! Using a yoga bolster can help you build the strength in your core, legs and arms to hold your body hovering off the ground in Four Limbed-Staff Pose.
Place the bolster length-wise along the centre of your mat and set up in Plank Pose over the bolster. Lower down so that your chest rests on the bolster.
Set up for Chaturanga, with your hands by your shoulders, toes tucked, and a straight line from your heels to hips to shoulders to the back of your head.
Then, start to engage your whole body, push your feet and hands into the ground, and slightly lift your body off the bolster. The bolster will expand a little as your body weight lifts, so it may still touch the front of your torso.
Hold for a moment, then lower down. Keep everything engaged. Repeat. I call this Breathing the Bolster and it is a great way to practice proper alignment in Chaturanga and build the strength required for this pose.
If your lower back arches
Lumbar hyperextension — or an excessive arch in your lower back — can be a challenge to overcome when practicing Chaturanga. Often this is because of a tight or weak psoas muscle (one of your hip flexors).
You can work to counter this by engaging your gluteus maximus (big butt muscle) and toning your belly more. Tighten up your butt and tuck it under slightly while also toning your belly by moving the space around your navel back towards your spine.
If your hips drop or sag
If your hips sag or drop in the pose, tone your abdominal muscles and really work to engage your rectus abdominus (six pack muscles) to help stabilize your core.
You can also place a yoga bolster or a yoga block under your pelvis to give you a reference point for the height your chest and hips should be. Work to hover above the prop instead of dropping your weight onto it. The block or bolster will give you feedback if you lower your hips too much.
To build strength in your legs or core
To build strength in your legs, use a wall. Before lowering into Chaturanga Dandasana, set up in Plank Pose with your toes tucked at the baseboard and the balls of your feet and heels pressing into the wall. This will help keep your legs and core muscles engaged as you come down into Chaturanga Dandasana.
If your elbows go wide
If you find it difficult to hug your elbows in, you can use a yoga strap and loop the strap around your upper arms. This will likely prevent you from bending your elbows all the way into the pose. You may need to stay a little higher in the pose than the final form.
Yoga Poses Related to Four Limb Staff Pose
- Phalakasana / Plank Pose
- Adho Mukha Svanasana / Downward Facing Dog Pose
- Makara Adho Mukha Svanasana / Forearm Plank Pose
- Urdhva Mukha Svanasana / Upward Facing Dog Pose
- Bhujangasana / Cobra Pose
- Adho Mukha Svanasana / Downward Facing Dog Pose
Poses To Take Your Practice Further
- Nakrasana / Crocodile Pose
- Mayurasana / Peacock Pose
- Vashistasana / Vashista’s Pose aka Side Plank Pose
- Eka Pada Koundinyasana 1 & 2 / One Leg Koundinya’s Pose 1 & 2
- Astavakrasana / Crooked in Eight Places Pose
- Eka Pada Galavasana / One Leg Galava’s Pose
- Pincha Mayurasana / Peacock Feather Pose
- Kakasana / Crow Pose
Related Posts & Videos
Gear & Resources for This Pose
- BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga
- Darren Rhodes Yoga Resource Practice Manual
- Stephen’s Favourite Eco-Friendly Yoga Mat
- Cork Yoga Blocks
- Organic Cotton Yoga Straps
- Organic Cotton or Hemp Yoga Bolsters
A Final Note About Four Limbed Staff Pose
Chaturanga Dandasana is a pose where proper alignment is vital to getting the benefits — of which there are many. It is also important to prevent injury in the pose. We often flow through this pose many times in class — if you do a typical warm-up of five Surya Namaskara As and Bs that’s 20 already! The repetition can be harmful for students who are not practicing the pose safely and with alignment.
Learn to practice it (and teach it, if you are a yoga instructor) with precision and skill so that you can practice it from now until you’re 95 (and beyond).
Namaste OMies, Stephen
I hope this post has been helpful in expanding your possibilities with Four Limbed Staff Pose. It’s my goal to inspire you to explore your yoga practice more deeply while enabling you to cultivate the strength and clarity needed to live your life’s adventure to the fullest!