Execution of the perfect chaturanga dandasana—the four-limbed staff pose—is a lovely sight to behold! The body of the experienced yoga practitioner seems to levitate inches over the floor. Then her chin rises and her back gracefully bows as she moves into urdhva mukha svanasana. Beginning yoga students transitioning into the intermediate phase of yoga instruction are particularly daunted by what appears to be an effortless pose. Repeated practice of chaturanga may result in the novice becoming acutely aware that certain parts of her body lack the strength and endurance to perform this very necessary pose. The key is to focus on those parts of the body that need extra strengthening. This can be achieved through simple exercises that you can do at home.
Push-ups not only build the chest muscles, but they also tone the shoulders, triceps, core, and legs—areas where strength is required for the perfect chaturanga dandasana. Start with the modified “bent knee” push-up, one to three repetitions of ten. When these push-ups become easy, graduate to traditional military push-ups. If you’re not used to doing push-ups, don’t overdo it at first. The goal is to slowly strengthen your body, not to leave you too sore to enjoy your yoga practice.
The perfect chaturanga dandasana relies on excellent core strength. Beginning students who make yoga their sole source of physical activity are particularly core-strength deficient, because excellent core endurance is built right on the mat, boot camp style. Simple abdominal crunches help make up for lost time. While your back is on the floor, focus on lifting with your shoulders. If you place your hands around the back of your head, make sure they provide only proper alignment and gentle support. Again, start slowly, with one to three repetitions of ten, graduating to repetitions of 20 or 30 as your core grows stronger.
Professional trainers often use plank exercises to help clients strengthen core muscles. In plank, the body forms a straight line parallel to the floor just as it does in chaturanga dandasana. However, the forearms, rather than the palms of the hand, are on the floor. Start by holding this pose two times for 15 seconds. As your core becomes stronger, increase the time to 30 seconds, then a minute. Doing plank exercises in front of a mirror helps the beginning yoga student spot a swayed back and belly sag. It also gives you the opportunity to explore the sensation of having your weight evenly distributed from your head to your toes.
Don’t stop at achieving the perfect chaturanga--take it several steps further by preparing your body for all of advanced poses you’ll learn as your yoga practice progresses. Weight training strengthens all muscle groups, and pilates cultivates good posture and poise. Cardio activities such as running, power-walking, or elliptical training give you endurance to get through the most challenging yoga class!
By Lisa Mayor, Photography by Jenna Jasso; All Rights Reserved @2014