Want to learn more about Dandasana aka Staff Pose? In this post, I share the benefits of Staff Pose, a complete pose breakdown, contraindications, myths, a step-by-step video, modifications and more.
Dandasana may look simple, but it is actually quite an intense, strength-building workout for yours hips, legs, abdomen, chest, and back. It is also surprisingly difficult to hold for long periods of time.
I actually taught a Dandasana-focused class recently and a student said afterwards, “I didn’t know you’d be able to make me hate Dandasana. In a good way.” It can be that challenging a pose when you really focus on it.
It is often said that Tadasana is the foundation for all standing poses. Similarly, it can be said that Dandasana is the foundation for all seated poses. Staff Pose helps teach the muscular engagement and anatomical alignment that helps when practicing every other seated pose.
In Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, you get to practice Dandasana again and again as it is used as a preparatory pose for most seated poses. It often appears in the Seated Sequence portion of the Primary Series.
However, Dandasana is more than “just” a preparatory pose. It is also a powerful pose in its own right that helps to build both strength and active flexibility.
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Dandasana Quick Facts
|Meaning||Danda means walking stick or staff.|
Asana means pose or posture.
Dandasana means Staff Pose.
Note: I only include the scientifically supported benefits of 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 Dandasana include:
- Stretches your hamstrings.
- Strengthens your quads.
- Helps improve posture.
- Strengthens your main back muscles — the erector spinae.
- Strengthens hip flexors — your psoas has to work a lot!
- Builds strength in your pelvic floor muscles.
- Your core strengthens from the work to hold you upright.
- Opens your chest.
- Improves core stability.
- Can help lessen the pain of sciatica.
If you want more on the benefits of yoga, 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 you have sciatic nerve pain, be careful to not work so hard in the pose that you increase your pain. Dandasana can help alleviate sciatica if practiced carefully.
- If you have a back or wrist injury, you may wish to avoid this pose.
- If you have tight/short hamstrings, it will be challenging to sit with your legs and back straight. See Modifications below.
- If you have knee pain, keep your knees slightly bent.
- If you can hyperextend your knees, you must practice awareness in Dandasana to keep your knees from over-straightening. See Modifications below.
Misconceptions & Myths About Staff Pose
Sritattvanidhi, a 19th-century south Indian text, uses the term Dandasana for a pose that is quite different from how we practice Staff Pose now. This image of Dandasana below shows a yogi hanging from a rope tied to their waist while holding their body straight.
Historically there were several “dands”. For example, Mayurasana is called Dandamayurasana in the 17th century Haṭha Ratnāvalī. Vyayama exercises (the physical movement component of Ayurveda) include a set of movements called “dands”, similar to the poses that make up Surya Namaskar.
Dandasana gets its name because your spine resembles the staff — or walking stick — carried by Indian renunciates who have reached the title of Swami Danda.
The “staff” of Staff Pose is said to represent the spinal column and Dandasana, like a your spinal column and a walking stick, supports you on your spiritual journey.
Dandasana Pose Breakdown
How to do Dandasana / Staff Pose
- Sit on the ground with your legs stretched straight out in front of you.
- Place your hands on the ground outside your hips, with your fingers pointing forward.
- Sit up tall as you draw your lower back in.
- Push down through your heels, push the balls of your feet away evenly, and spread your toes, pulling back with them slightly.
- Push down through your heels* and straighten your legs by engaging your quads.
- Look forward and work to stack your head over your shoulders and your shoulders over your hips.
- Push down slightly with your hands, tone your belly and lower back, and sit up tall from your pelvis to the top of your head.
- Lower your shoulders down your back, broaden across your collarbones and look straight ahead.
- This is Dandasana.
- Purvottanasana or Setu Bandha Sarvangasana make good counter-poses to Dandasana as they both open your hips.
* I intentionally repeat “push down through your heels” to reinforce this key instruction. See Modifications below regarding hyperextending your knee for more about why this is helpful.
Modifications & Variations
What do I do with my hands?
There are different schools of thought on what to do with your hands when practicing Staff Pose.
Some schools teach you to press your hands firmly into the floor just behind your hips. This helps to open your chest and hamstrings. However, your effort tends to be a bit passive in this variation as you lean back on your hands and don’t need to use your core to sit up straight.
The version I teach has you gently place your hands on the floor beside your hips for a little support, but not so that your weight is pushing down into them. In this variation, you can lift your hands off the ground without losing the shape of Dandasana, because you are using your core muscles to hold yourself up. Your hands are just there for support.
If your hands can’t touch the ground
If you cannot place your hands flat on the ground, you can make fists and push your fists into the ground. That will work for some people. Others will need more length. If you need more length, use yoga blocks under your hands and push your hands down onto the blocks instead of the floor.
If you have sciatica
Dandasana can help alleviate sciatica if practiced carefully. Sit on a folded up yoga blanket or a meditation cushion. Bend your knees slightly and work to bring a slight arch to your lower back. Tone your belly to support your lower back. You can push down with your hands a bit more for support when doing this variation. You may also find it helps to place yoga blocks under your hands.
If you have tight hamstrings or your back rounds
It will be challenging to sit with both your back and legs straight. So, place a yoga blanket under your hips and sit on the edge of the blanket so that it tips your pelvis forward slightly. Also, bend your knees slightly as this lessens the strain on your hamstrings.
You can also practice Staff Pose with your back against a wall and work to have only your shoulder blades and sacrum touching the wall, not your lower back. If this isn’t possible, sit on a blanket to help find more pelvic mobility.
If you have knee pain
Bend you knees slightly. You can also roll up a yoga blanket (or grab a yoga bolster) and place that under your knees.
If you hyperextend your knees
You must practice awareness in Dandasana to keep your knees from over-straightening. Push your heels into the ground while you straighten your legs and this will help. Keep your heels on the ground and this will prevent your knees from hyperextending.
Hyperextending any of your joints repeatedly can, over time, lead to problems with joint stability and comfort.
If it is uncomfortable to have your legs together
Widen your legs until it is more comfortable. Be sure to keep your knees pointing up towards the ceiling even if you separate your legs. They will likely want to turn out as you widen your legs, meaning extra attention is needed when choosing this variation.
Yoga Poses Related to Staff Pose
- Urdhva Hastasana / Upward Hands Pose
- Uttanasana / Standing Forward Fold Pose
- Ardha Uttanasana / Half Forward Fold Pose
- Adho Mukha Svanasana / Downward Dog Pose
- Baddha Konasana / Bound Angle Pose
- Prasarita Padottanasana / Wide-Legged Forward Fold Pose
- Gomukhasana / Cow-Faced Pose
- Trikonasana / Triangle Pose
- Sukhasana / Comfortable Pose
- Janu Sirsasana / Forehead to Knee Pose
- Purvottanasana / Reverse Plank Pose
- Paschimottanasana / Intense Stretch of the West Pose aka Seated Forward Fold
- Adho Mukha Svanasana / Downward Dog Pose
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana / Bridge Pose
Poses To Take Your Practice Further
- Parsvottanasana / Pyramid Pose
- Padahastasana / Hand Under Foot Pose
- Parivrtta Trikonasana / Revolved Triangle Pose
- Ardha Chandrasana / Standing Half Moon Pose
- Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana / Revolved Half Moon Pose
- Virabhadrasana 3 / Warrior 3
- Ubhaya Padangusthasana / Both Big Toes Pose
- Utpluti Dandasana / Floating Dandasana
Related Posts & Videos
Gear & Resources for This Pose
- BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga
- Darren Rhodes Yoga Resource Practice Manual
- Stephen’s Corq Cork Yoga Mat
- Cork Yoga Blocks
- Organic Cotton or Hemp Yoga Bolsters
- Cork Meditation Cushion
- Machine Washable Vegan Yoga Blankets
Save 10% on cork yoga gear
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- Use our code AYO10 for 10% off all Corq yoga mats.
Good for the planet and great for your practice!
A Final Note About Staff Pose
Dandasana might feel like “just sitting on the ground” but, like any pose, you get out of it what you put into it. Put more effort and focus into your Dandasana and it will pay you back with interest. Dandasana is one of my favourite poses to work on when I feel like I need to focus on my lower back strength (and my posture in general) or if I want to really activate my quads.
I hope this post helps you find ways that Staff Pose can help support you on your yoga adventure, and that it has been helpful in expanding your understanding and possibilities with Dandasana.
Namaste OMies, Stephen
I want these posts to inspire you to explore your yoga practice more deeply. I hope this post helps you see this fairly common pose with new awareness and understanding. The more you understand about each pose the more it will help you find the strength and clarity needed to live your adventure to the fullest!