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Dandasana ( Staff Pose ) - Issues and solutions

List of some of the issues that can be relevant for practising this pose:

Dandasana Pose Potential Problem Areas Image
            · Upper Back and Neck

            · Lumbar Spine

            · Hips and Pelvic Girdle Position

            · Hamstrings

            Pregnancy




Upper Back and Neck

There is relatively little strain in the pose on either the neck or upper back if practised well. However, it is common to find that some upper back muscles have to work hard to maintain the vertical elongation of the upper back. Two typical reasons for this are : either a habitual (even if slight) tendency to allow the upper back to curve forwards a bit too much; or due to restrictions lower down in the spine, hips or leg muscles. For both these sort of reasons, placing padding (height) under the hips is usually helpful – see section on hips.

Many people find there is a strong tendency to slouch forwards – a solution here is to think in terms of lifting the breastbone and imagining the shoulders broadening away from each other. Another useful approach is to have one’s back against a wall and aim to flatten one’s back, back of shoulders and neck against the wall. Another approach that can help is to rest one’s fingers on the floor a little forward of the hips and draw the fingers backwards, brushing the floor – as this can gently encourage the upper back to straighten.

Some people tend to jut their chins forwards (putting compressive extension into the neck) – a solution here is to draw the chin into the front of the neck or to imagine the top back of the neck being gently pulled upwards (or both).


Lumbar Spine

Most people find there is some tendency to allow their spine to curve outwards in this pose. Problems with this include putting the lumbar spine into compressive flexion and also encouraging the upper back to curve outwards, tending to thoracic kyphosis type problems. In this case, a solution is to tilt the pelvic girdle forwards. Putting padding under the buttocks so that the hips are raised a little or bending the knees (or both) will usually make it much easier to sit with the pelvic girdle tilted forwards sufficiently. It can also help to put wedge-shaped padding under the buttocks with the slope facing forwards as this will encourage the pelvis to be tilted forwards. Another helpful approach is to lift one buttock slightly and then use one’s hand to pull the flesh of one’s buttock backwards, lowering and then repeating on the other side.

A few people will find that in this pose they tend to allow the lower back to curve inwards. This is fairly rare and is only likely to occur in those who have long hamstrings and have a strong tendency to excessive lumbar lordosis. Those affected will probably find the degree of lumbar extension is relatively small, so that the adjustment needed is also quite small. A helpful approach is to imagine the tailbone (the base of the spine) sinking downwards – this encourages the pelvis to tilt backwards slightly and the lumbar spine to straighten upwards (usually creating a nice feeling of space, length and strength). Another thing that can help is to imagine the lumbar spine relaxing backwards with each out-breath.


Hips and Pelvic Girdle Position

There are a lot of muscles in the hips that can restrict the ability to sit with the pelvis correctly positioned when in the full version of this pose (i.e. hips forming a right-angle). The most obvious of these are the hamstrings (see below), but there are many others. The problem is that, if the pelvis is not correctly positioned, this tends to have an impact on the shape of the spine – particularly the lumbar spine.

The most usual problem is with the pelvic girdle tilted backwards too much - putting padding under the buttocks so that the hips are raised a little, or bending the knees (or both), will usually make it much easier to sit with the pelvis tilted forwards sufficiently. It can also help to put wedge-shaped padding under the buttocks with the slope facing forwards as this will encourage the pelvis to be tilted forwards. Another approach that is useful is lifting one buttock slightly and then using one’s hand to pull the flesh of the buttock backwards, lowering and then repeating on the other side.

It is relatively rare that the pelvis is tilted backwards too little – and, in a sense, this is a nice problem to have as the adjustment to correct the pelvic position is usually easy (i.e. muscle restriction does not make this difficult) and leads to a deeper, qualitatively fuller and more satisfying feel to the pose.


Hamstrings

The length of one or more of the hamstrings is usually a key limiting factor in this pose – however, this simply means the legs may not become fully straight. It can, however, have “knock-on” effects on the rest of the posture and, in particular, with regard to the positioning of the pelvic girdle - and thus on the shape of the spine, unless one adapts the posture appropriately. So, where this is an issue, it is advisable either to place some padding (e.g. a folded towel or yoga blocks) under one’s buttocks or to have bent knees (i.e. not try to straighten one’s legs completely) or both.


Pregnancy

Practising yoga in the first trimester is considered by most yoga teachers to be contra-indicated. The only explanation I have heard for this is that in the first trimester there is a fairly high tendency for spontaneous miscarriage and this could in principle be exacerbated by yoga (although, as far as I know, there is no evidence for this). Possibly a mid-wife or an expert pregnancy yoga teacher might be able to give a better explanation.

This posture is a relatively good sitting pose when pregnant – the circulation to and through the legs is fairly free. Even so, it is a good idea to move the legs between being straight and bent and to avoid holding the legs muscles contracted for extended periods. This is a pose in which a pregnant lady can “go to town” in pampering herself by sitting on lots of padding (under the buttocks and knees) with her back to a wall and with a soft, folded blanket between back and wall. Aim for a sense of relaxing the back against the wall and resting the legs. In the later stages of pregnancy, comfort is usually increased by having the legs wide or somewhat apart.

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