Perfect your traditional Sun Salutation sequence by working on the Four-Limbed Staff Pose, also known as Chaturanga Dandasana.
(Pronounced as "chut-toor-ANG-ah done-DAHS-anna")
The Sanskrit word chaturanga means "four limbs," and danda means "staff." Taken literally, your arms and legs are the four limbs that support your spine, which becomes like a strong, straight staff here.
Lie facedown on your yoga mat. Lift your heels up slightly and press your toes down into the floor.
Adjust your legs so that you have one foot of space between your feet. Bend your elbows and place your palms on the mat right next to the sides of your chest. Spread your fingers apart. Lift your head up enough so that only your chin rests on the mat. Tuck your tailbone deep into your pelvis and hold it there.
Take a breath. Now on your exhalation, push your body up on your hands and toes just a few inches off of the floor in plank position. Do not let any other part of your body except your hands and toes come in contact with the floor. Squeeze your elbows and arms in close to your sides. Your chest and heels should stay in a straight line as you look straight ahead. Engage your thighs and abdominal muscles to help hold yourself up. Press your shoulder blades into your ribcage so that your shoulders and chest do not cave down toward the floor.
Hold this posture for 30 seconds. While practicing Sun Salutations, the Four-Limbed Staff Pose is exactly in the middle of this yoga sequence. It comes right after your first Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana or Upward-Facing Dog Pose, and you repeat Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana again right after it as you repeat all the poses of Sun Salutations again in reverse order.
To help train your core muscles for this pose, practice it with a couple of folded yoga blankets. When you lie down on the floor, place the folded blankets under you so that they support your core from your pelvis to the middle of your chest. Now straighten your legs behind you, tuck in your tailbone and try to put as much of your body weight on the balls of your feet and palms as possible. Even if you can only lift yourself up a little bit from the blankets for 2 seconds at a time, keep repeating this exercise to build the right muscle memory.
To learn the right actions of the chest, back and thighs in this posture, practice going into the Four-Limbed Staff Pose from Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana, or Upward-Facing Dog Pose. Lie on the floor, arch your back and pull yourself up into Upward-Facing Dog Pose, keeping your weight on your palms and feet. Here, keep your legs completely off the floor.
Now without moving your hands at all, exhale as you push your body back through your heels and come down into the Four-Limbed Staff Pose. The key to maintaining your balance is to concentrate on extending through your heels as you push back and down into the pose. Repeat the motions back and forth of moving into and out of Four-Limbed Staff Pose from Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana.
If you want an even greater challenge in this pose, then pull yourself forward to roll over the balls of your feet. Now the tops of your feet will rest on the floor instead, but keep your legs and the rest of your torso off of the floor. Your hands do not move, but they will be closer to the sides of your waist now. Push your elbows back up in the air as high as you can while tightening your core to hold this position.
Try this variation of the pose while standing. Put a yoga belt behind your back and keep one end of the belt in each hand. Ask a partner to hold the belt loop that you have formed with the strap by grabbing the middle of the belt behind you. They should use their body weight to hold you up with the belt. They support you completely as you grip the ends of the strap and lean forward about 45 degrees.
Now as you grasp the belt firmly, bend your elbows and pull your arms in to your sides, the way you would position your arms on the floor in Chaturanga Dandasana. Keep your weight leaning forward and use the resistance of the belt to expand your chest fully and lift your sternum as much as you can. Tuck in the tailbone and keep your thighs active.
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