Dandasana (Staff Pose) is a foundational seated posture that focuses on the hamstrings, calves, as well as opening the back and shoulders and keeping the spine upright. In this pose, you can find lift and expansion by strengthening your back, hip flexors, and quadriceps.
Dandasana is also a welcome opportunity for mental reflection and breathwork. This asana requires focus and small, intentional alignments in order to bring the body into integrity in the posture. This same intentionality in the pose can be applied to maintaining a strong posture at a work desk, while seated at dinner, or walking down the street. The core tenets of Staff Pose link directly to integrity and consciousness of bodily alignment in all of these everyday activities.
“Practicing Dandasana is a great way to pay attention to your posture when you sit down,” says Yoga Journal contributor Gina Tomaine. “This pose requires you to become conscious of what your natural postural stance is, and then bring that posture into an alignment that syncs with your yoga practice. This can be a surprisingly rewarding pose—and can be incredibly useful when you’re sitting at your desk with your computer later.”
Sanskrit: Dandasana (dun-DAHS-anna)
danda = staff
Pose type: Seated pose
Targets: Upper body
In addition to improving your postural and body awareness, this pose strengthens your core and the front your thighs (quadriceps). It also allows for lift and expansion in the top of your chest.
Other Staff Pose perks:
0 seconds of 1 minute, 7 seconds Volume 90%
In this pose, imagine your spine as the vertical “staff” of your torso, firmly rooted in the Earth and the support of all you do. If you struggle to ground your thighs into your mat, lay one to three 10-pound sandbags or a dumbbell across the tops of them.
It’s important not to round your back or stick out your chin in Staff Pose; this will restrict your breathing and can strain your lower back. If your back is rounding, sit on a folded blanket or pillow, so that your hips are lifted and higher than your knees. If your hands do not reach the mat, place them on blocks, books, or folded blankets to bring the ground to you.
Don’t overarch your back or push your chest out—this will overwork your hip flexors and put pressure on your sacroiliac joint.
Sit tall in a chair. Lift your legs off the ground, straighten your knees, and flex your ankles actively. Keep elongating your spine. You may want to hold onto the side of the chair or arm rests of the chair if it has them. Stay as long as you comfortably can.
Though a challenging pose, Dandasana does not require much stretching prior to practicing it. Any pose that lengthens your back body will set you up well.
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog)
Purvottanasana (Reverse Plank Pose)
Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)
Dandasana is like a home position that you return to between various supine and prone postures on the floor, explains Ray Long, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and yoga teacher. This is analogous to how you use Tadasana (Mountain Pose) to recalibrate during the standing poses. As with Chaturanga Dandasana, you can also practice Dandasana by itself, outside of your usual yoga routine, to strengthen the muscles that hold your back and knees straight and stable, along with those that bend your hips in a controlled fashion.
In the drawings below, pink muscles are stretching and blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of the stretch and the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.(Illustration: Chris Macivor)
The erector spinae (muscles along the spine) and the quadratus lumborum in the lower back combine with the psoas at your upper thigh to lift and stabilize your lower back. The triceps straighten your elbows and help you to push your hands into the floor, further lifting your back. The trapezius combines with the rhomboid muscles to draw the shoulder blades toward the spine and downward, opening your chest.
The psoas, pectineus, and rectus femoris flex the hips. The adductors, located along the inner thigh, draw the upper leg bones toward the midline. The quadriceps straighten your knees. One of the quadriceps, the rectus femoris, also contributes to flexing the hips.(Illustration: Chris Macivor)
Muscles along the edge of the shins (tibialis anterior) shorten to make “right-angle ankles.” The pose is finessed as the peroneus longus and brevis muscles (along the outside of the lower leg) turn the ankles slightly outward to open the soles of your feet.
Excerpted with permission from The Key Poses of Yoga by Ray Long.
Ready to put this seated posture into practice? Here’s a few flows to try:
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Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit natasharizopoulos.com.
Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.