Four-Limbed Staff Pose
Learn four-limbed staff pose because it is frequently practiced as part of the traditional Sun Salutation sequence.
Four-Limbed Staff Pose: Step-by-Step Instructions
With an exhalation slowly lower your torso and legs to a few inches above and parallel to the floor. There’s a tendency in this pose for the lower back to sway toward the floor and the tailbone to poke up toward the ceiling. Throughout your stay in this position, keep the tailbone firmly in place and the legs very active and turned slightly inward. Draw the pubis toward the navel.
Keep the space between the shoulder blades broad. Don’t let the elbows splay out to the sides; hold them in by the sides of the torso and push them back toward the heels. Press the bases of the index fingers firmly to the floor. Lift the top of the sternum and your head to look forward.
Chaturanga Dandasana is one of the positions in the Sun Salutation sequence. You can also practice this pose individually for anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds. Release with an exhalation. Either lay yourself lightly down onto the floor or push strongly back to Adho Mukha Svanasana, lifting through the top thighs and the tailbone.
Contraindications and Cautions
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
Modifications and Props
You can get a feel for this challenging position 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.
Deepen the Pose
Even experienced students have difficulty with Chaturanga Dandasana. 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.
The completed form of Chaturanga Dandasana is quite difficult to perform at first, until your arms, back, and legs are strong enough to support you. From Plank Pose, begin by lowering your knees to the floor and then, with an exhalation, lower your sternum to within an inch or two above the floor.
- Strengthens the arms and wrists
- Tones the abdomen
A partner can help you learn to anchor the pelvis in this pose and lengthen the spine. Perform Chaturanga Dandasana (using a blanket support under your thighs if needed). Have your partner straddle your waist, pigeon-toe his/her feet, and squeeze the top rim of your pelvis with his/her lower legs. Your partner can drag your pelvis back slightly, toward the feet, while you lift the top of your sternum in the opposite direction.
If possible, slowly roll over the balls of your feet onto the tops of your feet and shift the torso slightly forward. This will bring the hands back beside your waist and increase the challenge of the position.
Salabhasana or Locust Pose effectively preps beginners for deeper backbends, strengthening the back of the torso, legs, and arms.
Locust Pose: Step-by-Step Instructions
For this pose you might want to pad the floor below your pelvis and ribs with a folded blanket. Lie on your belly with your arms along the sides of your torso, palms up, forehead resting on the floor. Turn your big toes toward each other to inwardly rotate your thighs, and firm your buttocks so your coccyx presses toward your pubis.
Exhale and lift your head, upper torso, arms, and legs away from the floor. You’ll be resting on your lower ribs, belly, and front pelvis. Firm your buttocks and reach strongly through your legs, first through the heels to lengthen the back legs, then through the bases of the big toes. Keep the big toes turned toward each other.
Raise your arms parallel to the floor and stretch back actively through your fingertips. Imagine there’s a weight pressing down on the backs of the upper arms, and push up toward the ceiling against this resistance. Press your scapulas firmly into your back.
Gaze forward or slightly upward, being careful not to jut your chin forward and crunch the back of your neck. Keep the base of the skull lifted and the back of the neck long.
Stay for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then release with an exhalation. Take a few breaths and repeat 1 or 2 times more if you like.
Contraindications and Cautions
- Serious back injury
- Students with neck injuries should keep their head in a neutral position by looking down at the floor; they might also support the forehead on a thickly folded blanket.
Modifications and Props
Beginners sometimes have difficulty holding this pose. You can support the area around your lower sternum with a rolled-up blanket to help maintain the lift of your upper torso. Similarly you can support the front of your thighs with a blanket roll to help support the lift of your legs.
Deepen the Pose
Advanced students can challenge themselves a bit more with a variation of Salabhasana. Instead of stretching the legs straight back from the pelvis, bend the knees and position the shins perpendicular to the floor. Then, as you lift the upper torso, head and arms, lift the knees as far away from the floor as possible.
- Lower-back pain
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
- Supta Virasana
- Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
- Virabhadrasana I
Salabhasana is a good preparation for all of the “baby” back bends, including Dhanurasana and Ustrasana. Other possible follow-ups include:
Beginners sometimes have difficulty sustaining the lift of the torso and legs in this pose. Begin the pose with your hands resting on the floor, a little bit back from the shoulders, closer to your waist. Inhale and gently push your hands against the floor to help lift the upper torso. Then keep the hands in place as you do the pose, or after a few breaths, once you’ve established the lift of the chest, swing them back into the position described above in step 3. As for the legs, you can do the pose with the legs lifted alternately off the floor. For example, if you want to hold the pose for a total of 1 minute, first lift the right leg off the floor for 30 seconds, then the left leg for 30 seconds.
- Strengthens the muscles of the spine, buttocks, and backs of the arms and legs
- Stretches the shoulders, chest, belly, and thighs
- Improves posture
- Stimulates abdominal organs
- Helps relieve stress
A partner can help you get a feel for the work in the back of the upper arms. Have your partner stand straddling your torso while you perform the pose. He should then lean forward and press his hands firmly against the backs of your upper arms (triceps). You then push up against this resistance. The partner might also, as he’s pressing down on the upper arms, draw the skin away from the shoulders, toward your wrists.
A challenging variation of Salabhasana is called Makarasana (mah-KAH-rah = often translated as “crocodile” or “dolphin,” but literally “sea monster”). The legs are raised in this pose exactly as in Salabhasana, but the fingers are clasped and then the palms are pressed against the back of the head, with the index fingers hooked up underneath the base of the skull. With the upper torso lifted, open the arms out to your sides.