aka High Plank and Low Plank, aka Ardha Chaturanga Dandasana and Chaturanga Dandasana.

Yes, in sanskrit high plank is half chaturanga dandasana. Obvs. And chaturanga dandasana translates as 4 limbed staff pose. The 4 limbs being 2 hands, 2 feet. The staff being your straight as a stick body. Got it? Good.

So, these two poses are pretty fundamental in the yoga practice. Good form in these will help you sooooooooo much. And let’s clarify here, right at the top, chaturanga is a ASANA (posture) in it’s own right, it is NOT a movement. Got it? Good. Let’s get into the deets.

 

Re-e-wind

Before we get into these poses, here is how you get from your ardha uttanasana (see previous post) to high plank.
Place the hands flat on the mat. If your hamstrings and hips allow you to place the hands down with straight legs, then do that. If you are a mere mortal and that’s not an option, just bend the bloody knees. No ego here. It’s better to bend the knees than trying to step (or worse jump) back on your finger tips. We’ll discuss jumping back further down. Then simply step one foot back, followed by the other.

Ardha Chaturanga Dandasana (ard-ah chat-urr-ann-gah dan-das-ana) – High Plank

Foundation
Hands flat under the shoulders, so by default, shoulder width distance apart. Feet, more specifically, balls of the feet. Your tootsies can be as wide as you need to feel stable.
Feet and Legs
**Send the heels back
Pushing the heels of the feet backwards will help you to start engaging your legs muscles. Your legs are preeetty heavy limbs, so activate those muscles so they are supporting you rather than just being a dead weight. There are enough things in life that try to bring us down, don’t let your legs be one of them. Your butt is included in the leg muscles FYI.
Pelvis and Torso
**One straight line from the crown of the head to the heels.
The mid-section of this is your core. Your bum is not up. Your bum is not down. It is IN LINE. GET IN LINE. Draw your bellybuton back towards the spine. Use your abs to help keep you up. In fact, use every blooming core muscle you own. I challenge you.
Arms and Shoulders
Your hands should be under your shoulders, as detailed in the foundation section. Use your hands to push the earth away from you. You can keep a microbend in your elbows if you find you are locking out. Shoulders over elbows over wrists. One straight line, allowing the bones to stack in a straight line (trade secret: the muscles don’t have to work as hard when bones are stacked).Pushing through your hands and arms SHOUUUULD start to engage the muscles around your shoulders.
**Breathe into the space between your shoulders.
So many times, I cue this and people retract rather than protract. Think about your lungs filling the space between your shoulder blades with air. Another way to think about this is the arch you make when you’re in cat pose (you know, that yummy back stretch we do at the beginning of class?). Basically, do not allow the back to collapse. Keep it broad and engaged.
Head and Neck
Again ** One long line from the crown of your head to your heels.
Keep the neck long. Don’t crunch it up by looking forwards. Gaze down or slightly towards the top of your mat, not looking up to see what the teacher or everyone else is doing.
And there we have your high plank. Basically, if there’s a muscle, engage it.
Now we get into the options for lowering down.

Ashtanga Namaskara (ash-tan-gah nam-as-car-ah) – Eight Limbed Salutation

More commonly known as Knees, Chin, Chest
So your Eight Limbs, 2 hands, 2 feet (you knew that bit already), 2 knees, 1 chin, 1 chest. These are the only bits of you touching the floor. The belly is NOT one of the named limbs.
Feet and Legs
**Drop the knees to the mat.
Self explanatory right? Keep the engagement in the leg muscles, don’t go all jelly just because your knees are down now. Keep the toes on the floor, never entirely sure why people are keen to lift the feet *shrugs*.
Pelvis and Torso
You start with the bod in **One straight line, from the crown of the head to the knees. Bum still not up. Bum still not down. Bum still IN LINE. Cool. Core muscles still engaged.
As the arms bend, the bum will stay lifted in the air as the chest comes down to the mat. Recap: chest lowers but BUM STAYS LIFTED.
Arms and Shoulders
As alluded to above, the arms go from straight to bent. The arms bend in a tricep push-up manner, not a chest push-up. This means the elbows bend in to the side of the body, not out to the sides, you should be able to feel your arms touch the side of your body.
Head and Neck
As the arms bend, you actually want the chin to come into contact with the mat before the chest does. Knees, chin, chest. They lower to the mat in that order. The gaze goes forward, opening the front of the throat.
This is not an easy pose. This is an asana in it’s own right, not a lazy mans chaturanga. It opens the throats and opens the chest. And if you do Disco Yoga, you’re welcome to give the booty a shake whilst it’s up in the air!!

Knees down Chaturanga

Unlike the knees, chin, chest above, this is actually a modification for Chaturanga Dandasana.
Feet and Legs
**Drop the knees to the mat.
As above. I’ll move on, I trust you got it!
Pelvis and Torso
The body starts as above, one straight line. The difference being, this time as the arms bend, the body lowers in one line. No raised bum, no droopy chests. One line. Keep the abs engaged. The whole body lowers to the mat.
Arms and Shoulder
As above. Elbows BEND IN TO THE SIDE OF THE BODY. GOT IT? Good. This may be a modification but you WILL feel it in your triceps. Enjoy that sensation. Enjoy the journey as you feel the strength in your triceps increase.

Head and Neck

Simples, these stay in line as in high plank.

 

And finally on to the pièce de résistance.

Chaturanga Dandasana (chat-urr-ann-gah dan-das-ana) – Four Limbed Staff Pose

Or low plank. When you get this pose, it’ll open up a whole range of arm balances for you. You’ll be flying. Literally. Also, when you master it, you feel like an absolute boss.

So:

Feet and Legs

**Roll to the tops of the toes.

Move the weight from the balls of the feet to the tops of the toes. This shifts the body forward. This is small movement which can drastically change your chaturanga. And the amount of people who ignore me when I say it *shakes head*.. The rest as in plank, keep it all tight baby.

Pelvis and Torso

You’ve guessed it, this stays in one line right in between the crown of the head and the feet. The body lowers as one piece. No high bums, no saggy bellys. Pull it all in. Staff pose, literally stick pose, make your body as straight as a stick, a nicely sanded, straight one, not one with loads of knobbly bits.

Arms and Shoulders

Having shifted the weight forwards, the shoulders will be slightly in front of the wrists. This is key. Because: as you start to bend the arms IN TO THE SIDE OF THE BODY (see the theme here?!) having the weight forwards allows the elbows to stack over the wrists. This stacking of elbow over wrist makes your pose so more stable than if the elbow is back behind the wrist. You will be so much less likely collapse because the bones between wrist and elbow are in a straight line. And I’m sure you’ll remember what I said above, stacking the bones means the muscles don’t have to work as hard, which is particularly handy as not many of us work out the muscles in our forearms all that often.

Head and Neck

Keep them in line. Not much else to say.

 

And there you have it. You’re all set to transition from high plank to low plank. Any questions, pop the in the comments below, drop me an email or reach out on social media.

 

P.S OK, so I said at the top I’d touch on jumping back, and I’m a gal of my word.

The official ‘yogi’ line on this is: if you want to jump back, then you jump straight back to your chaturanga dandasana (low plank). Not jumping back to plank. Citing my teaching, this is due to suspension. If you jump back with straight arms, then that will send a lot of shock through your shoulders, elbows and wrists. All joints we want to protect.

I’ve heard the argument, yeah, but I jump back to plank in a burpee, so why can’t I do it now? Well my love, it’s your body. Only you can feel what’s going on inside of your body, so you’ll have to make the call for yourself. I can only share with you my teachings.

And lets be clear. Jumping back (which really should read floating back) to chaturanga is BLOOMIN difficult.  It requires a lot of control and muscle engagement. You don’t want to land heavy. In fact, you don’t want to hear the landing AT ALL. So by all means, keep practicing, but if you sound like an elephant landing, you need to work harder. I can say that because it’s still something I’m working on.

 

P.P.S And very lastly, here are a few pics of the PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t do this. Thanking you kindly please.