Dandasana (Staff pose): Reach and Lengthen for Spinal Health

Dandasana (Staff pose) with arms reachingOne of my favorite yoga poses is Dandasana, commonly known as Staff pose. It looks easy, however, this pose is extremely challenging and therapeutic. Let’s take a moment to appreciate that:  1. Looks can be deceiving and 2. There are no throw away postures in yoga. All postures serve a specific purpose and deserve attention and respect.

In order to fully come in to Dandasana, there needs to be hamstring openness to have a neutral pelvis. and you need inner thigh engagement to keep your legs in parallel. For me though, with all the different muscles activating in my legs, my hip flexors, particularly the iliopsoas, want to inappropriately activate. So, for me, when I do Dandasana, I’m constantly telling myself to soften. Lengthen as I inhale, soften as I exhale.

How to do Dandasana

  1. Have a seat on your bottom with your legs straight out in front of you. If it feels like your pelvis is tucking under you, get a blanket (or two) to sit upon. When you feel your low back, you should be able to feel the neutral curve of your spine. It should not be flattened. If it is, grab a blanket to sit upon.
  2. using the hands to medially rotate the femursCross your hands at the wrist and rotate your femurs (thigh bones) in toward your midline. This is called internal rotation. When you do that, you should feel your SITs bones spread and press in to the mat. If you do not feel this, gently rock from side to side and use your hand to scoot the tissue of your bottom out to the side. Try again to feel your SITs bones connect to the ground.
  3. The adductors (inner thighs) work to keep your legs together and in parallel.
  4. Press the backs of your heels down in to the mat as the toes curl back toward you. These steps should create a wonderful muscular energy like your legs are reaching for the wall in front of them.
  5. Take your thumbs and press them in to the hip flexors in the fronts of your hips. They should feel soft. If they are active and pressing back in to your thumbs, work on your mind/body connection and ask them to soften. It’s okay to work on this for a while. Having soft hip flexors during this posture is very helpful.
  6. Now, ground down through the SITs bones and feel yourself lift toward the ceiling. Feel an energy through the top of your head and line up your skull above your pelvis.
  7. You can leave your arms by your sides or you can lift your arms toward the ceiling with your palms facing each other. I prefer to have my arms lifted because I feel like it helps me lift away from my hips. This feeling of creating more space between my ribs and hips helps to soften my iliopsoas (a major hip floexor) and build core strength.

Why you should do Dandasana

Dandasana is a wonderful pose to help reduce spinal pain and increase core strength. Yes, it can help the lumbar (low back), however, it can also open the thoracic (rib cage) and align the cervical (neck). It is worth noting that in most people, engaging the adductors (inner thighs) results in engaging the abdominals. For that reason, when I talk about core strength, I include the adductors. Any time we are engaging our adductors, we will be working on strengthening our core as well.

Another reason to do this pose is that it is great practice at stabilizing. If you look at the picture, you place yourself in your absolute best seated posture and work on holding and lengthening. As your body feels challenged, it will want to slip out of this perfect position in to–uh, shall we say, “something else”–and it is your job to stabilize. You should look the same once in position at the beginning as you do at the end.

In terms of yoga sequencing, this pose prepares you for seated forward bends, hip openers, and twists.

Here is a video to explain.

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What did you think? Do you love this pose, too? Please let me know in the comments.

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Sarah Stockett is STOTT certified in Matwork, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, & Barrels, Injuries & Special Populations, and CORE; a Yoga Alliance RYT-200; and has studied Active Isolated Stretching. When she is not trying to discover the best exercises to get rid of pain, she likes watching movies and travelling with her family.

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