Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Stick Pose)

Chaturanga (chatur=four; anga=limb; danda=staff, stick) is an excellent pose to build awareness of the muscles that support and stabilize our shoulder blades. It is also an excellent core exercise to prepare us for more challenging arm balances. Benefits are as follows:

–   Strengthen the legs, buttocks, back, abs, shoulders, arms, and wrists;

–   Improves circulation and digestion

–   Relieves minor tendonitis and fatigue

–   Energizes the body

–   Improves concentration and develops focus.

 

1.         Contraindications :

–   Carpal tunnel syndrome

–   Pregnancy

 

2.         Anatomical Focus:

–   Core

–   Shoulders

–   Back

–   Buttocks

 

3.         Getting into the pose:

 

a.         Preparation

Starting from plank pose, or high push up, our wrists are stacked under our shoulders and our body is parallel to the floor with our toes on the mat. In this position, the pectoralis muscles of the chest are keeping us in a push-up position. To avoid sagging into the wrist joints, we need to recruit the larger muscles of our shoulders for support. Imagine moving our heart closer to the floor without bending the elbows, the shoulder blades will tend to glide closer to each other. This actively engages our rhomboid muscles between the shoulder blades and the spine, and the middle portion of our diamond shaped trapezius muscle.

 

b.         Upper Body

To lower our body from plank position, the action of inward and outward rotation at the shoulder joint must be balanced. The outward rotation of teres major and infraspinatus muscles of the rotator cuff counteract the inward pull of the pectoralis muscles, and lattisimus dorsi on the back. By nature of the fact that our palms are on the mat, the pronator muscles of the forearm are activating an inward rotation at the wrist. To maintain neutral rotation at our shoulder joint, our elbows must hug to our sides to engage the triceps, whose natural action is pure flexion and extension at the elbows. It is important to maintain the engagement of the scapular support muscles that we started with in plank pose. This means that we keep an open heart moving forward, broad across the collarbones, and our shoulder tips never drop below our elbows. The subscapularis muscle of the rotator cuff (on the underside of the shoulder blade) is working over time to prevent the arm bone from moving forward out of the shoulder joint.

c.         Core
To avoid sagging into the low back or popping up with our hips, our core muscles must be engaged. Use a gentle contraction of uddiyana bandha, sucking the belly button up and in, flattening the lower belly. This action corresponds to engaging the transversus abdominus, which provides stability to the lower spine. A slight tuck under of the tailbone can aid this action. The contraction of the transversus abdominus is maintained throughout chaturanga to keep our body parallel to the floor and avoid any lower back discomfort. Press back firmly through the heels to distribute the weight to our core and upper body and send weight into the legs.

d.         Lower Body

The action of pressing back into the heels activate the muscles that dorsi flex our ankles, namely tibialis anterior on the front of the shin. Our hamstrings lengthened by the action of the extended knee initiated by our quadriceps muscles in the front of the thighs. To keep our alignment, our thighs are pressing towards each other but not touching, like we are holding a block with the adductor muscles of the groin.

Sirsasana A (Headstand pose) “a panacea, a cure-all for all diseases”

Technique (Getting into the pose):
1. Sit in Vajrasana (kneeling position), by contracting the hamstrings and plantar flex the feet by contracting the gastrocnemius and soleus muscle; close your eyes and relax the whole body. After a few minutes, bend forward, by contracting the quadriceps femoris and the gluteus maximus and place the forearms on a folded blanket with the fingers interlocked and the elbows in front of the knees, by contracting the deltoid muscle to flex the arms, and contracting the biceps brachii muscle to flex the forearms. You should have an equilateral triangle from the distance between each elbow and the distance between the elbows to the interlocked fingers.
Place the crown of the head on the blanket between the interlocked fingers. Wrap the hands around the head to make a firm support so that it cannot roll back when pressure is applied. Contract the levator scapulea to bend the head forward and protract the scapula by contracting the pectoralis major, rhomboideous and the latissimus dorsi.
Lift the knees and buttocks off the floor, straighten the legs and start walking the feet forward on the tip of your toes. Contract the quadriceps femoris, the gluteus maximus, engage the core muscles, uddiyana bandha (draw the abdomen in and up) and mula bandha (engage the pelvic floor). Your chest is folded down against your thighs with the knees straight in a posterior stretch. Your hips are flexed. (You can bend the knees if you don’t have enough hip and hamstrings flexibility). Your back should be slightly rounded at this point and almost to the point of tipping over (protaction of the scapula by engaging the serratus anterior or boxer’s muscle). Then bend the knees slightly, press the thighs against the abdomen and lower chest, by contracting the hamstrings.
2. Once you feel most body weight is on the shoulders and the legs become weightless, gradually raise the lower legs in a controlled movement by contracting the hamstrings. At the same time, you should be retracting and depressing the scapulas by contacting the pectoralis minor, and transverse abdominis, external obliques and uddiyana and mula bandha. Adjust the trunk slightly to counter-balance the weight of the legs by contracting the core muscles. This is a difficult stage to remain in for a long time, because the weight of your legs has to be supported by your deep back muscles. Poor hip flexibility and short hamstring muscles is the main obstacle at this point, it will keep tension on the pelvis and the back rounded, and this prevents you from distributing the majority of your body weight above your head. The less flexible the hips, the more weight you will have to support on the forearms as you lift the feet.
3. Extend the hips, so that the thighs move up and away from the torso, by contracting the gluteus maximus, the hamstrings and keeping the core muscles engaged. Raise the knees until they point directly upward and the thighs are in line with the trunk. Balance the body. This position is very stable; you can stay in it as easily as in the headstand itself. Because your knees are flexed and your feet drop to the rear, it will require a more prominent lumbar lordosis to keep your balance.
4. Finally, slowly extend and straighten your knees by contracting the quadriceps femoris to raise the lower legs. As you do this, the lumbar region will flatten to compensate for the fact that the feet and legs are now in line with the torso and thighs. You will gradually shift your weight off the forearms and balance on your head. The whole body should be in one straight line with the feet relaxed, the core muscles stay engaged. Do not crush the neck; depress the scapulas to keep them stable by engaging the rhomboideus muscle. Gaze at your nose tip and breath slowly to relax in this position as long as it is comfortable (10 to 30 seconds for beginners and gradually adding more seconds, 3 to 5 minutes is sufficient for general health). You should put your awareness, when first practicing, on maintaining the balance; for adepts, on the brain, on the centre of the head or on the respiration. Or on the spiritual side, you should put your awareness on Sahasrara Chakra.
Technique (Getting out the pose):
Slowly bend the knees and lower the body with control, in the reverse order, until the toes touch the floor, by contracting your abdominals muscles. You can rest in Balasana (child’s pose) for a while then slowly return to the upright position the counterpose (Tadasana).
Contra-indictions:
Sirsasana should not be practiced by people with neck problems, headache or migraine, high blood pressure, heart diseases, thrombosis, arteriosclerosis, chronic catarrh, chronic constipation, kidney problems, impure blood, severe near sightedness, week blood vessels in the eyes, conjunctivitis, chronic glaucoma, inflammation of the ears or any form of blood haemorrhage in the head. It should not be practiced during pregnancy or menstruation.
Benefits:
This asana is very powerful for awakening Sahasrara Chakra (situated at the crown of the head, corresponding to the pineal gland of the physical body) and therefore it is considered the greatest of all asanas.
Sirsasana revitalizes the entire body and mind. It relieves anxiety and other disturbances which form the root cause of many disorders such as asthma, hay fever, diabetes and menopausal imbalance.
It also helps to rectify many forms of nervous and glandular disorder, especially related to the reproductive system.
This asana reverses the effect of gravity in the body. Strain on the back is thus alleviated and the reversed flow of blood in the legs and visceral regions aids tissue regeneration. The weight of the abdominal organs on the diaphragm encourages deep exhalation so that larger amount of carbon dioxide are removed from the lungs.
The headstand lifts your spirits wonderfully. If something is drawing you dawn, turn upside down, and voila! The downward flow is upended into your head. The headstand is also a great morning wake-up. It increases digestive fire, counters depression, and fills you with enthusiasm for meeting your day. But doing this posture to excess is like increasing the voltage in an electrical circuit. Be careful.

Memoirs of Yoga Teacher Training

Congratulations to those who have made it through the 200 Hr Yoga Teacher Training, Weekend batch from Jan to March 2010. Through your hardwork, sweat, tears (blood? I hope not) I hope this lovely bunch of girls have learnt something valuable for life. Yoga philosophy cannot be learnt just be reading, application to one’s life is more important than remembering the verses. Hope you will not stop learning Yoga as this is only the start.
Here are some photos for memories….