Using blocks to help with Chaturanga Dandasana by Gillian Taylor
Props. You either love them or hate them. Oftentimes there is a reluctance to use props in practice, either because we are unsure how to use them or perhaps we feel they are cumbersome or we are embarrassed to reach for a block or strap if no one else in class is. I love practicing with props and utilizing them in practice. Props are beneficial in helping us find optimal alignment in poses to help us really feel the essence of an asana - what muscles are being recruited and where we should be finding space. They help us to understand the asana in our body. Let's start with Chaturanga Dandasana or, as some have called it, the shoulder shredder! Poor alignment in Chaturanga Dandasana will definitely put strain on your shoulder girdle if done incorrectly, and I still find it a challenging pose in my own practice. It is however, a great strength builder and a solid Chaturanga is particularly beneficial to build the upper body and core strength necessary for arm balances. Remember, Chaturanga Dandasana is a pose, yet often we rush through it in transitions. Try to practice this a little slower to truly work on strength building. Using the blocks helps to teach us to keep the shoulders at the height of the elbows. Many newer students never lower down far enough or they come down too low and collapse the heads of the shoulders down (although it’s better to lower less than come too low far). Start by placing two blocks at medium height, shoulder distance on the mat and placing hands slightly behind the blocks. Come into plank pose and engage the core by drawing the navel to the spine, and lengthening the tailbone to the heels. Start to shift the weight forward slightly, draw the shoulders down the back, lengthen through the crown of the head. From here, melt the heart, bend the elbows and lower down until the shoulder heads are hovering over the blocks. Welcome to the full body engagement required for Chaturanga Dandasana. You can also do this exercise with the knees down, and gradually work up to lifting the knees off the mat. Practice safely.