Thursday, April 26, 2012

Poses in Detail: Chaturanga Dandasana (Plank Pose)

"The only thing that keeps one going is energy.
And what is energy but liking life?"
-Louis Achincloss

The first time I saw this image, I laughed out loud — and if anyone knows where I can get a tank top with this print, please let me know. 

Not only T-Rex, but anyone who feels their core and upper body might not be the strongest parts of their physical self may not dig Chaturanga.  However, by practicing this asana over time, you build confidence and "oomph" intoto your practice, so that you might start to truly love this stabilizing pose. I do!

Chaturanga Dandasana is one of the asanas in the Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) flow. You can practice this pose on its own from 10-30 seconds, but remember to breathe the entire time you're exerting effort, so that your prana can continue to flow. Release on an exhalation. As a counterbalance strentch, either lay yourself gently onto the floor or push back strongly with the power of your core into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog).

Here's Chaturanga in detail: 

Chatur = Four
Anga = Limbs
Danda = Stick, staff
Asana = Posture

Four Limb Staff Pose
("Danda" is a symbolic name for the spinal cord.)

Step-by-steps:

1. Begin in Table Pose with the wrists beneath the shoulders, knees beneath the hips.
2. Bring the shoulders into a neutral position by relaxing them down away from the ears, widening across the upper back, and spreading the shoulder blades apart as you also widen across the front of the chest.
3. Spread the fingers wide with a firm base of support through the hands, pressing down into the pads below the knuckles and into the webs between the thumbs and the index fingers.
4. Rotate the upper arms slightly outward, so the eyes of the elbows come forward. 
5. Keep the head in line with the spine and the neck soft and relaxed with the gaze directly downward.
6. Engage the bandhas fully to support the neutral position of the pelvis and lengthen the spine.
7. Stretch the left leg out, curl the toes under, lengthen from the heel to the crown of the head. Stretch the right leg back and voila, you're in Plank Pose!
8. Press the heels back and the crown of the head forward as the shoulders remain relaxed away from the ears. 
9. Firm your shoulder blades against your back ribs and press your tailbone toward your pubis.
10. Press the forearms gently toward each other and the upper arms and shoulders slightly away from each other to stabilize the pose.
11. Energize the core of the body and relax the abdominal organs simultaneously.
12. Lift the rib cage out away from the hips, even as you relax the lungs and heart. 
13. On each inhalation, feel energy moving from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head. On each exhalation, sense the energy releasing tensions down and out of the body.
14. Feel free to release down into the half pose with knees down at any time, resuming the full pose when ready.
15. With an exhalation, slowly lower your torso and legs to a few inches above and parallel to the floor with the elbows close to the ribs. There's a tendency for the lower back to sway towards the floor and the tailbone to poke up toward the ceiling. To prevent that, firm the core and keep the tailbone firmly in place with the legs very active and turned slightly inward. Draw the pubis toward the navel.
16. Be sure the elbows don't splay out to the sides. Hold them in and tight to the torso, pushing them toward the heels. Press the bases of the index fingers firmly into the floor. Lift the top of the sternum as well as your head to look slightly forward.
17. Release the pose by slowly dropping one knee at a time to the floor, while maintaining all alignments, then releasing back into Child Pose to sense how your core strength can support you through your practice.

Extra tidbits:

- Allow any shaking or trembling to occur, understanding that deep tensions are being released from the core of your being.
- Notice if you can hold a little beyond the mind — not the body's — normal limits without compromising alignments and ensuring safety.
- Notice where the upward and downward movements of energy meet at the center of the body, Samana Vayu, and sense the massage of the abdominal and reproductive organs in the pose.

The benefits of the pose:

- Balances Fire, Earth, and Air in Ayurvedic medicine. To learn how to practice especially for your doshaso please feel free to contact me.
  For imbalances in the doshas, aim for the following:
  - Vata: Place block underneath the pubic bone for longer holding to increase grounding and reduce overexertion.
  - Pitta: Focus on subtle aspects of core strength rather than the muscular elements.
  - Kapha: Hold the ful pose, especially in Sun Salute.

- Primarily activates the first Three Chakras; the Sixth becomes active during longer holding.
- Develops postural stability for the entire body.
- Strengthens and aligns the shoulder joints, which may prevent injuries.
- Develops overall fitness level, including the heart and lungs to give greater stamina and energy throughout the day.

Modifications:

- Keep one or both knees on the floor.
- Place a block under the pubic bone.
- Place a block at the mid-chest line.
- Keep arms bent rather than holding straight.

Injuries:

- Use a strap for elbow injuries. For photos and tips on alternatives to Chaturanga, check this what Teachasana has to say.

Based upon Integrative Yoga Therapy by Joseph and Lilian Le Page and Yoga Journal.

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