This week we will explore Staff Pose, or Dandhasana.  In this pose one is in the shape of a letter L, sitting tall and straight with legs outstretched in front.  This is a foundational pose, one that is used as preparation and transition for many seated poses.  When one first looks at this pose, it seems very simple.  How hard can it be to sit with your legs out in front of you?  Don’t let it fool you.

Something people really suffer from in these modern times is lack of core strength.  We have a very sedentary life style. Many of us sit long hours for our jobs.  We sit long hours as we drive places.  We sit for leisure activities.  Sitting, sitting, sitting.  We sit too much! Then there is WHAT we sit on.  American furniture is designed with the idea of comfort.  We sit passively in our furniture.  We have big cushy choices and chairs, recliners, desk chairs with lots of support.  The problem with all of this furniture is that it all inhibits us from developing our own muscles to maintain our posture.  

In fact, modern American are like the ANTI-posture people.  Do you remember when you were a kid, your mother nagging you about posture all of the time? Sit up straight!  Pull your stomach in!  I hated the reminders.  They felt so *judgy.”  It HURT to sit up straight.  As a young girl I was much more comfortable curling over my dinner plate.  In fact, curling over tables and desks seems to be the American way.  Most of us roll our shoulders forward and SLUMP.  It’s so unconscious   We’re totally unaware of it.  Even when we struggle with neck and shoulder pain, back pain, tendonitis of the elbow, and wrist pain, we don’t make the connection that it is tied to how we sit and stand.  

Now is an awesome opportunity to ask yourself how you’re sitting. It it active or passive?  Are you sitting tall or slouching down? Are your shoulders rolled forward or are they down your back?  I bet while you’ve just read all this, you’ve made all of these adjustments. 

Tadasana is the ultimate pose to challenge the American way of sitting. When one is new to Tadasana it may not be a very enjoyable pose.  It makes a lot of demands of us.  

First, it requires that you sit straight up and down without back support.  This requires the engagement of all of the core muscles, in the back and in the abdominal area from the bottom of the ribs to the hips.  For many people, these are underdeveloped muscles.  When this is the case, we compensate for that by doing two things:  we slouch, rounding our backs and rolling our shoulders forward, or we lean our entire torso forward.  

Second, a proper Dandhasana requires us to sit with our legs outstretched straight in front of us, the backs of the legs pressed into the floor.  Many people do not have the flexibility in their hamstrings or the strength in their hip flexors and lower back to sit like this, even when compensating by leaning forward or rounding one’s back. 

So if you are new to yoga and finding sitting in this pose difficult, it is!  It’s okay to give voice to that experience.  It only LOOKS easy, but, truthfully, it’s quite challenging.  However, it is essential.  It’s also SOOO good for you to learn how to sit in this pose AND to become comfortable in this pose.  Both will take time, and I urge patience.  There are somethings that you can do to make it easier to start, and develop the strength to hold it over time. 

Let me first explain how to be in this pose, prop free, to start.

  1. Sit down firmly on your sitz bones, legs outstretched in front of you, toes facing the sky.  To assure that your sitz bones are equally in contact with the floor, you can move the flesh of your bum to the outside .
  2. To sit up tall, draw the crown of your head up to the sky. At the same time, draw your shoulders  back and down, creating as much distance between your shoulders and your ears as possible.
  3. While engaging your shoulders, pull your belly button against the spine, and move your body back in space.  Imagine a Plexiglass wall behind you and you are pressing your back firmly against it.  I often use the cue of stacking the shoulders firmly over the hips, and in order to do so, you have to make sure your shoulders and hips are in the same plane.  It will feel like you’re leaning backwards as you engage the muscles needed to do that.  You will feel an engagement of your side waist muscles and all of your abdominal muscles.  
  4. Move your cranium back in space also, so that it is firmly stacked over your shoulders.  
  5. Resist any urge to arch your back and tilt your tailbone backward.  Instead, as you draw your belly button against the spine, tilt your tailbone down.
  6. What to do with your hands?  Some people press their hands on the floor on either side of their hips.  This does provide extra support.  It’s okay to do this in the beginning.  I usually have mine resting on top of my thighs.  
  7. Then of course breathe….in and out of your nose, expanding and contracting your belly .  Eventually you’ll be able to take a full yogic breath while seated in a strong Dandhasna. 

What if you think it’s a pipe dream to sit in this position as I’ve just described it?  

There are modifications and ways that we can use props.  Yay!

Chairs.  The nice thing about this pose, is you can practice it in a chair, only your feet will not be outstretched.  However, you can use the support of sitting in a chair to work on posture.  Practice everything listed above minus the outstretching of the legs.

Blankets and towels.  You can raise your hips slightly by sitting on a folded blanket.  This will take a lot of pressure off of the lower back until you have developed the flexibility and stealth to sit in this pose well.  You an also place a rolled up towel under the back of your knees to allow your legs to bend, taking pressure off of the hip flexors and lower spine.  

What are the benefits of Dandhasana?

To start, it builds all of your core muscles.  Do this daily and you will be surprised how they develop and how this pose becomes comfortable over time.  It teaches proprioception.  Where exactly are you in space and how are you showing up with your body in that space? It is the foundation for many sitting poses:  poschimottanasana (seated forward fold), janu sirshasana (head to knee), ardha matsyendrasana (seated spinal twist), and many more.  

As someone who regularly practices yoga, this is actually one of my favorite poses, but I’m certain there was a time when I probably didn’t do it so well or feel so confident in it.  What I want for my students, for you, is to feel confident in this pose, just like you do in Tadasana.  So, take the props and tips.  Over time develop the strength and flexibility you need to feel good in this pose.  Then tackle it with ease and the memory of well developed muscles.