A beginner's guide to a familiar, yet hard, yoga sequence of poses
Often in a yoga class, students will move through a sequence of 3 poses; Plank (Phalakasana), lowering down to Four-limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana), and then open into Upward Facing Dog (Urhva Mukha Svanasana).
This is what it would look like in practice:
(To learn more about each pose, click the link to each article I have written: 'Doing Plank Correctly', 'Four-Limbed Staff Pose - Chaturanga Dandasana' , and 'Is Cobra a modification to Upward-Facing Dog? Nope!')
This 4 pose transition requires not only strength, but it is very important to be aware of what muscles to activate in your body. Unfortunately, this is what is commonly seen in yoga classes, usually due to a lack of strength:
When lowering down, instead of Four Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturunga Dandasana):
- Hips drop to floor
- Elbows are out to sides
And instead of Upward Facing Dog/Urdhva Mukha Svanasana):
- taking Cobra (Bhujangasana)
If you find that you are not quite there with your strength and/or if you are needing some help figuring out what muscles should be working (ie. you see yourself doing any of the above ‘what not to do’ photos), all you need to do is modify Four Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana) and Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana).
The following variation is what I lead students through in my classes:
Lower down from modified Four Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana), your pelvis/pubic bone connects with your mat, then lower ribs will press into floor. Before your sternum connects (and you come completely to the floor), inhale and raise your sternum forward lifting into Baby Cobra. Watch leading with your chin; tuck your chin slightly to lengthen the back of your neck. Activate your upper back muscles and draw your shoulder blades together and down your back.
To finish, exhale and push your hands into the floor, lift hips and torso up as a unit (still on knees though). Shift your hips back to take a raised Child’s Pose and then curl your toes underneath to lift back up to Down Dog.
What this modified chaturanga and baby cobra variation teaches you/your body:
Chaturanga modification: By dropping your knees to the floor you are:
- Reducing the weight = allows you to focus on form, alignment, and building strength without overloading your system.
Baby Cobra variation:
- Strengthening and creating flexibility in key areas. All too often we are spending time sitting hunched forward at a computer or our phone, causing the following:
- Weakness of upper back muscles (Rhomboids, Trapezius, and Latissimus Dorsi) and lower back muscles (erector spinae)
- Limited flexibility in chest muscles (Pectorals) and upper back muscles (Rhomboids and Trapezius)
- Baby Cobra helps target areas of the body that are required to activate when a student progresses to Upward Facing Dog.
When taking this modification, be patient. Take your time and focus on your alignment and build your strength.