How to Do Low Plank (Chaturanga Dandasana) in Yoga

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

chaturanga dandasana
Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also known as: Low Plank, Four-Limbed Staff Pose

Targets: Shoulders/upper body, core

Level: Beginner

Chaturanga Dandasana is one of yoga's most challenging postures, but it is often introduced to yoga beginners with minimal instruction and no real discussion of the dos and don'ts that can help prevent shoulder injury. Since you'll find Chaturanga incorporated into Sun Salutation series and many vinyasa flows, it's important to do this pose properly. Chaturanga is also the first step in more advanced arm balance poses.

Benefits

To hold yourself in Low Plank (Chaturanga), you need to recruit the muscles in your wrists, arms, abs, and lower back, so they all get a workout. Strengthening the core muscles helps your standing posture, among other things.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Begin on your mat with some easy stretches and breathing. Typically, you will do Chaturanga Dandasana as part of a longer sequence. Here we will focus on Chaturanga as well as the poses immediately preceding and following it.

Yoga Plank Position
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Start in plank position with the arms and legs very straight. Shoulders are over your wrists and your heels are pressed back. You could draw a line from your heels to the crown of your head because the hips are neither drooping down nor sticking up.

The legs are firm and the core is engaged (think about pulling your belly button toward your spine) to allow you to maintain a straight body throughout this sequence. 

Plank Preparing for Chaturanga
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  1. Shift the plank forward, moving the shoulders in front of the wrists and feet up on tip-toes. This shifted-forward plank position is the key to a safer Chaturanga.
  2. Roll your shoulders back to blossom your chest through your upper arms. This will also naturally cause your head and neck to come up a bit out of their flat position, but they will still be in line with your spine. 
  3. Lower to Chaturanga. Bend your elbows straight back, hugging them into the side of your body as you go. They should not wing out to the sides like they might in a traditional push-up. Notice that because your shoulders were already in front of your wrists, your forearms naturally assume a perpendicular position to the floor. The ideal version of the pose has the upper arms parallel to the floor. Do not go any lower than that.
  4. Pause and hold the pose at the bottom instead of treating the whole thing like a quick transition between the plank and Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana).
Chaturanga with the Safest Alignment
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5. To finish, move to Upward Dog, keeping the chest broad. Shoulders remain back and down, not hunched up by the ears. Roll over your toes, straighten your arms, and you're there. 

Upward Facing Dog
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Common Mistakes

It's difficult to get the Chaturanga position just right, especially if you are accustomed to doing it with less-than-perfect form. Be on the lookout for these problems.

Shoulders Over Wrists

Four-Limbed Staff Pose - Chaturanga Dandasana
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If you don't rock forward from plank before lowering into Chaturanga, the shoulders will hover over the wrists. Pushing back through your heels also has the effect of moving the shoulders back instead of forward. As a result, when you lower down, your forearms will be on a diagonal. That angled position does not offer the support the shoulders need.

Prioritize the set-up of the arms and shoulders, since those are the areas that are at risk, and let the heels do what they will. 

Collapsed Chest

In the photo above, the chest is pointed at the floor. Broadening the chest in plank before lowering to Chaturanga should correct this. 

Lowering Too Far

Chaturanga Coming Too Low
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Avoid skimming as close to the floor as you can. When you let the shoulders come lower than your elbows, you are putting a lot of weight on your vulnerable joint. This is the kind of wear and tear that causes injuries when repeated over and over in the course of many practices. It is much safer to keep the shoulder level with or higher than the elbow.

If you're not sure what the position of your arms looks like, do the pose in front of a mirror or ask a friend for feedback. If you're used to dipping down low, it may feel weird to stop higher up, but it's the best option for your shoulders over time.

Letting Hips Sag or Elbows Stick Out

Bad Chaturanga
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Don't lose sight of your basic alignment points. If your hips are sagging, it's a clear indication that you should drop your knees to the floor. You have to build the core strength to support your plank throughout the pose.

Also, hug the elbows strongly into your sides. You may even feel them hugging your torso in your low position, depending on how wide your shoulder​s are. 

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

One of the reasons chaturangas tend to collapse to the floor is that the upper-body strength to lower slowly and hover is lacking. If you are still working on building that strength, stick to Knees, Chest, Chin Pose (Ashtanga Namaskara). It will get you where you need to be to eventually start working on Chaturanga.

As an intermediate step between these two poses, lower your knees to the floor after you've rocked forward in plank. Take a moment to broaden your chest and then lower your upper body so that your arms come to a right angle. You can lift your feet up off the floor if you want to, but it's also fine to leave them down.

It's perfectly fine if your shoulders stay well above your elbows, especially if you're building strength or have had shoulder problems in the past. Even if you just lower your torso a few inches down from plank, that is a perfectly valid version of the pose.

Chaturanga with the knees down
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Up for a Challenge?

Hold your Chaturanga for an extra breath or two to work your muscles harder. Incorporate more chaturangas into your practice.

Safety and Precautions

As noted above, form and alignment are key to prevent shoulder injuries. If you do have a shoulder injury, discuss your practice with a doctor or physical therapist. Similarly, if you have any wrist pain or injury, you may need to adapt your practice.

In the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, adapt your Chaturanga by lowering your knees to the floor.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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