“Four Limbed Staff Pose”, or simply “LOW PLANK”

This arm balancing pose was our weekly focus recently and whilst we all know that there is more to a balanced yoga practice than simply asana (poses), I respect your right to know more about the physical approach.

Arm balancing poses generally develop upper body strength.  Think forearm balance, high plank, handstand etc.  However, for a healthy, successful and safe low plank, the entire body needs to work as a team.

‘Chatur’ means four, ‘anga’ means limb, and ‘danda’ means staff or stick.

Here, in this final position, our core muscles, our bandhas, shoulder girdle muscles, buttocks and legs are all switched on and have to come to the party.  And the breath is soft and smooth, not held or laboured.  It is essentially a triceps push up done in a “yogic way” with healthy alignment, all muscles activated and with the breath.  And of course with a sense of joy and curiosity.

One way of looking at it is, that low plank is mountain pose (Tadasana) with the hands underneath our shoulders (or shoulder width apart) and our elbows bent.

When we lower ourselves down from high plank, we need to make sure we keep that straight line of head, neck, chest, hips and legs and heels.  No dipping or hunching into the shoulder blades.  Simply like a mountain pose all the way down.  And then keep that straight line as we hover for a few breaths.

How to:

  1. From Downward Facing Dog we come forward into High Plank, on an exhale we start lowering by first coming forwards onto our toes and slightly bringing the shoulders forward beyond the wrists, continuing our exhale we slowly lower with all above muscles enganged, really plank like, keeping the elbows bent backwards, keeping the body in one straight line, looking straight ahead, keeping broad between the shoulders, and hover in above position if we can for a few breaths. Bandhas and the whole front and backline of the body are engaged.

Variation/Preparation:  Same as above, except we bring our knees to the floor as we lower to chaturanga from our high plank.  This is still a plank like position.  You can call it half plank.  Move with the same integrity as full pose.  Buttocks, legs, belly, arms, bandhas all work in unison.

How to:

  1. Another idea to get into the pose is to lift up from the floor. Yep, that is particularly popular in class J. We lie on our belly and come into sphinx (on forearms, elbows under shoulders), we tuck our toes under and by engaging all above mentioned muscles and an inhalation we lift plank like off the floor.  We hover, like in the picture, for a few breaths.

Hovering in chaturanga dandasana for a few soft, smooth breaths may be an epic feeling for you on some days, it may be extremely challenging or sheer impossible on other days.  Allow yourself to acknowledge what your body and your mind are capable of on any given day of practice.  Remember to move mindfully with full awareness into your full potential.  Allow yourself to become. Be patient, assertive and kind to yourself.

Low plank requires and develops strength, body awareness and stamina.

Breath:  Breath is key and will be smooth and continuous.  We lower on an exhalation if we are entering the pose from high plank.  We come up into low plank from the floor on an inhale.  Whilst holding the pose the breath is even and smooth.  Ujjayi breath if you can and chose to.

Whats next:  From low plank we can either open up on an inhale into upward facing dog, or lower to the floor on the belly and on an inhale lift up into cobra.  These are often the options when chaturanga dandasana is part of a vinyasa practice like sun salutations etc.

Remember to mindfully move, to stay present, to enjoy and to have fun.  And of course to practice safely, and to USE YOUR KNEES (see variation) until the strength is there to practice a full chaturanga safely with healthy alignment.  Do not be in a hurry.  Patience is one of the virtues cultivated by regular yoga practice.

Smile, and enjoy a healthy and balanced yoga practice.

Happy practicing.  Let me know how it goes for you.

See you on the mat.