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Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana) is so pivotal to many yoga flow practices but it’s often misunderstood. This foundational pose requires thoughtful alignment—it’s not merely a push-up.
To create proper alignment in Chaturanga, you need to activate muscles from the front to the back of your body, and tighten your elbows close to your ribs, rather than letting them splay outward. This allows your chest to stay up in a hover. You also need to energize your legs and arms and activate your abdominals and shoulders to stay stable in the pose.
“Maintaining alignment in the shoulders and chest while bearing weight is as challenging as it is crucial,” says Natasha Rizopoulos, a senior teacher with Down Under School of Yoga.
The best way to access this pose—and every pose—is the one that works best for your body. There are plenty of modifications that you can access to meet you wherever you are on your long and pleasant journey with Four-Limbed Staff Pose.Section divider
Chaturanga Dandasana (chaht-tour-ANG-ah don-DAHS-anna)
chaturanga = four limbs
chatur = four
anga = limb
danda = staff (refers to the spine, the central “staff” or support of the body)
Four-Limbed Staff Pose basics
Pose type: Arm Balance
Target area: Full Body
Benefits: Four-Limbed Staff Pose boosts energy, fights fatigue, and builds confidence and empowerment.
Other Chaturanga Dandasana Perks:
- Strengthens your core, shoulders, arms, wrists, thighs, and ankles.
- From Plank Pose, align your shoulders slightly ahead of your wrists and come onto the balls of your feet.
- Push back through your heels to engage your quadriceps as you reach your sternum forward, creating a straight, taut line of energy from the crown of your head through your feet.
- On an inhalation, draw your shoulders and the tops of your thighs up and away from the floor. Pull your lower body up and in, and release your tailbone toward the floor.
- On an exhalation, bend your elbows and slowly lower your body (keeping it as straight as a plank of wood) until your elbows are at around 90 degrees. Keep your elbows directly over your wrists and drawn in against your sides. Press your hands firmly into the floor.
- Bring your gaze to the floor, about 6 inches in front of you, and continue to lower until your shoulders are at the same height as your elbows.
- Continue to reach through the heels, sternum, and crown of your head as you breathe.
- To come out of the pose, exhale and lower down to your belly or push back up to Plank Pose.
Even experienced students have difficulty with Chaturanga Dandasana. The key to this posture is utilizing your arm strength: Engage your biceps and triceps, taking both elbows into a right angle to the best of your ability.
As you lower into your hover, stay centered and avoid shifting sideways. Try to tip your hips slightly forward while engaging your gluteal and abdominal muscles to hold your trunk solid. Another trick: Lay a thickly rolled blanket on the floor below your Plank Pose, parallel to your spine. Lower yourself lightly onto this support. Use it minimally, just enough to keep yourself afloat.
Tighten the legs by activating your calf muscles in order to flex your ankles (a simple cue for this is “reach through your heels”), energizing your body in this posture from front to back.Section divider
- When you first start practicing this pose, it’s very common for your elbows to splay out or your shoulders to dip. A strap can help you avoid this. Make a hip-width loop with a strap and place it just above your elbows. Come to Plank Pose and lower down as you would for Chaturanga Dandasana, but let the strap catch your ribs and help support you, keeping your elbows pinned to your sides and in line with your shoulders. Adjust the strap so it is taut when you are in the pose.
- Do not bring your shoulders below your elbows or bend your elbows beyond a 90-degree angle.
- Keep your core engaged.
- Avoid or modify this pose if you have a rotator cuff injury or shoulder weakness, shoulder arthritis, or shoulder injuries. You may also want to avoid or modify the pose if you have wrist arthritis, wrist pain, or carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Remind students to use their arm strength in this posture. They should engage their biceps and triceps, taking both elbows into a right angle to the best of their ability.
- Advise students to stay centered in their hover, and avoid shifting sideways. Tipping their hips slightly forward while engaging their gluteal and abdominal muscles will help keep the trunk solid.
Chaturanga Dandasana variations
Here are three variations of Four-Limbed Staff Pose that you can use while working up to the posture—or just enjoy them on their own.
Four-Limbed Staff Pose with knees down
If you’re still building arm strength, lower your knees to the mat. Maintain an engaged core.
Four-Limbed Staff Pose against a wall
You can get a feel for this challenging position (and take pressure off your shoulders) by practicing it standing upright. Stand and face a wall, a few inches away from the wall. Press your hands against the wall, slightly lower than the level of your shoulders. Imagine that you are trying to push yourself away from the wall, but the firmness of your shoulder blades against the back prevents any movement. Lengthen your tailbone into your heels and lift the top of your sternum toward the ceiling.
Four-Limbed Staff Pose with a strap
If your elbows splay out to the side, practice the pose with a strap around your upper arms. Adjust it so the strap contains your arms shoulder-distance apart.Section divider
Why we love this pose
“I am certainly not the first woman to approach Four-Limbed Staff Pose with an attitude somewhere between ‘I don’t think so…’ and ‘ugh,’ There was no way I had the arm strength to do this thing that is really a push-up in yoga disguise,” says yoga teacher Cyndi Lee. “Every time I tried lowering down into this position—which isn’t just a shape but also an action—I collapsed in a heap. Plop! Eventually I remembered that the point of yoga is to experience union, integration, relationship. By focusing solely on my arm strength (or lack thereof), I was doing this pose purely as a physical exercise rather than a moving expression of yoga. So I started to work my legs, to lengthen my spine, to gain awareness of where my head was and what my feet were doing. Almost overnight I could do this thing. I could do it over and over and it became so much fun.”Section divider
Preparatory and counter poses
Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard Pose)
Counter posesSection divider
When lowering your body, activate the pectoralis major to hold your upper body off the floor, says Ray Long, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and yoga instructor. One cue for accessing this muscle is to attempt to draw your elbows toward one another. Another way to support your elbows is by activating your triceps. This prevents your elbows from bending more than 90 degrees and maintains the forearms at a right angle to the floor.
In the drawings below, pink muscles are stretching and blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of the stretch and the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.
Engage the quadriceps to straighten your legs. To do this, draw your kneecaps toward your pelvis.
Attempt to drag your hands forward as you press the mounds of the index fingers into the mat to engage the pronators teres and the quadratus of the forearms. Your hands won’t move, but the force of contracting those muscles will stabilize the shoulders and upper extremities. At the same time, press your feet backward as if you were pushing out of runner’s starting blocks. This activates the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles of your calves, stabilizing your ankles. The net effect of these actions is the creation of a stabilizing bandha throughout the body.
There is a tendency to let your body sag a bit when lowering into Chaturanga Dandasana. Anticipate this and prepare to counteract it by engaging the rectus abdominus and psoas muscles to support your midsection and pelvis and maintain the body as a plank of wood.
Put Chaturanga Dandasana into practice
About our contributors
Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit natasharizopoulos.com.
Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.