There are different reasons people practice yoga; some people seek stress relief, while others look to improve their strength and flexibility. For those who want to build strength, I have two words for you: Chatturanga Dandasana (a.k.a. four limbed staff pose).
Chatturanga dandasana is one of the positions in the Sun Salutation sequence, in which the body is straight and parallel to the ground and is supported by the toes and palms, with the elbows at a right angle. It is a very common asana in Ashtanga yoga but can also be found in regular vinyasa or power yoga practices. However, most yoga practitioners should not be practicing the full chatturanga dandasana when they first begin yoga. Instead they should be dropping down to their knees and lowering down with a straight back (like half a plank) to the floor, with their elbows pointing back. This is to avoid placing pressure on the lower part of the back and to strengthen the body for full chatturanga.
As a yoga teacher, there is nothing that drives me more crazy than chatter-updog; it’s half chatturanga and half upward facing dog. This usually happens in a mixed level practice, where beginner students see more advanced students and try to copy what they are doing. No matter how many times I find myself trying to correct them, their ego often takes over and they practice incorrectly regardless of my advice. At that point, I just keep calling out chatturanga until they give up (that should teach them).
Enough about how I torture my students, and more on why chatturanga is so damn great. I practiced in regular vinyasa classes for about six years before I entered the world of Ashtanga, and by ‘entering’ I mean throwing myself into a teacher training with zero knowledge of this Indian practice. In one month I had built more strength than in 6 years of practice. Now, I know what you’re thinking, a teacher training is more intensive. But I was practicing regularly, anywhere from five to seven times per week before my training, over a span of six years. You’d think I would have acquired a ridiculous amount of strength, but it all depends on how you practice and who you practice with. In one month in India I was able to do inversions and arm balances I had never thought possible. Why? Mostly because an Ashtnaga practice begins it’s sequence with ten sun salutations; Surya Namaskara A and Surya Namaskara B. This equals to fifteen chatturangas before your standing poses even begin. Not to mention, you have another forty-five chatturangas within the primary series sequence; that’s sixty chatturangas! This means:
- Strengthening arms, shoulders, and leg muscles;
- Developing core stability;
- Preparing the body for inversions and arm balances.
In the end, you don’t need to necessarily attend a yoga class to build super yogi strength. Just learn how to properly perform a chatturanga and practice from home, over and over again. The results will impress you and possibly lead you to taking fancy yoga pictures for your Instagram #InspirationalYogi.
Peace & Love,