Chaturanga Dandasana (Four Limbed Staff Pose)

Iyengar's difficulty rating: 1* out of 60*

Iyengar's Technique:

  1. Lie down prone (facedown).
  2. Bend your elbows and place your palms beside your chest. Keep your feet about a foot apart.
  3. On an exhale, push into the floor and raise your whole body a few inches from the floor, so that only your hands and toes touch the ground. Keep your whole body taut and engaged, "stiff as a staff, parallel to the floor from head to heel and the knees taut." Remain here with normal breathing.
  4. Gradually slide your body forward in space until the tops of your toes rest on the floor (not pictured).
  5. Remain in this shape for about 30 seconds with normal or deep breathing. Then relax down onto the floor. You may repeat this posture several times.

Comparing Forms:

  • I have skipped step #4 in Iyengar's instructions, and am comparing my form to Iyengar's in this partially complete state. I occasionally perform this posture the way Iyengar instructs it, but I consider it a relatively obscure variation. The version shown here, essentially the bottom of a pushup, is much more common. Do note, however, that like Iyengar I did perform this posture by lifting up from the ground rather than lowering down from straight arms.
  • It's worth noting here that Iyengar does not indicate that your elbows must be pinned to your sides. This is a common "alignment" instruction in vinyasa yoga, and in my experience, it causes a lot of harm to many students' shoulders. Both Iyengar and I appear to leave some space between our elbows and the sides of our torsos.
  • Iyengar's elbows are higher than his shoulders, and he exhibits slight anterior humeral glide, meaning the heads of his armbones are protruding forward and in towards the center of his clavicle. This is very aggressive and can cause inflammation to the rotator cuff and biceps tendon if performed repetitively and without very resilient joint tissue. I have lifted my shoulders higher, but in an effort to emulate Iyengar and explore his method, I too have a little bit of this going on.
  • Iyengar's elbows are slightly behind his wrists. My elbows are directly above my wrists. Many "alignment" teachers will tell students they must keep their elbows directly above their wrists, but I disagree with this. Iyengar's shape may be healthier for the wrists of some individuals. I recommend that every student find his or her own places of comfort and strength with regards to wrist angles.