Lessons from the Mat: How to Do a Four-Limbed Staff Pose

Article posted in: Fitness

by Eliza Darling

I bought a cute leather purse on eBay a few months ago, and when I was at a coffee shop recently, I reached in a pocket looking for some change and found a discarded fortune cookie fortune tucked away by the purse’s previous owner. The worn paper with torn corners and deep creases offered a message I couldn’t help but ponder as we begin a new (and hopefully much better than the last) year. It said “ The Buddha said there is no one thing that stays the same during this life.” After reading this fortune that was given to me by destiny, an incredible sense of relief washed over me. If nothing stays the same, than what is the sense in fighting tooth and nail to maintain permanence? If nothing stays the same, than the very idea of tradition and habit become observed as unnatural. And after a season of working tirelessly to maintain tradition and to uphold an air of calm in a sea of chaos, I realize why people become so stressed out during the holidays: We are literally living out of sync with the reality that EVERYTHING is constantly changing. The fear of experiencing what may be uncomfortable or challenging keeps us from exploring the world that exists beyond the walls of permanence and reliability that we spend our lives building. But when we relinquish control of how things should be, and allow ourselves to experience this life as it is, we make room for change, growth and evolution.

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When I stepped on my mat today as a visitor to a new studio, I was faced with a brand new set of challenges. The cues the teacher gave were unfamiliar, the studio required students to use two towels which eliminates the ability to grip the mat with my hands and feet, and the sequence was predicable and left space for me to float away with my thoughts. As I became increasingly frustrated, I found my reflection in the mirror, and smiled. Here I was, a yogi practicing yoga, and forgetting to practice the foundation of yogic philosophy: Kindness. I was too concerned with wanting my practice to fit into the comfortable box I’d built so that I wouldn’t have to face change. But the problem with that box was that it would eventually fail to keep me confined, because the very nature of the universe—change—had been disassembling it from the beginning. I am, and always will be a student, and as the student learns, the mind is constantly morphing into something new. And with that realization, I made the commitment to let go of judgment, to go with the grain instead of against it, and to welcome change—in all forms—-to enter and shape my life. For many of us, 2016 was a hard year (to say the least!), and much of it was because we had experiences that were unforeseen. We had no frame of reference to deal with these things, and the fear of the unknown and the uncertainty of the future, has left us reeling with anxiety and discomfort for what’s to come.

So I offer you this for the new year: Savor the good while it lasts and when things are negative and dark, know that light is not far off. Change allows us to experience all that makes us human: Love, pain, compassion, anger and joy. Embracing change—rather than clinging to stagnancy—allows us to become vibrant, experienced, empathetic and thoughtful human beings.

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If you ever take one my classes, you can count on practicing chaturanga dandasana MANY times. I love this pose because it strengthens the entire body (specifically the abdominals and shoulders) and challenges the mind, while transitioning you from one pose to the next. However, if not preformed properly, chaturanga can quickly lead to (most commonly) shoulder injuries.


  • Builds core strength and stability
  • Strengthens hands/wrist/arms/shoulders
  • Strengthens abdominals and lower spine
  • Improves posture by strengthening muscles around the spine
  • Prepares body for arm balancing poses


      1. Starting on your hands and knees, straighten the right leg back, coming onto the ball of the foot.
        yoga pose
      2. Straighten the left leg back to meet the right coming into high plank. Shoulders are stacked over the wrists and heels over toes. Hips are in line with the heals and the shoulders. Thighs hug the mid-line and the navel draws inward.
        yoga move
      3. Inhale and shift slightly forward on the toes. Keep the gaze toward the top of the mat to lengthen the neck. Avoid lifting or lowering the chin.
        how to do yoga
      4. Exhale and bend the elbows 90 degrees, keeping the elbows over the wrists and in line with the shoulders (upper arms in line with the torso). Lengthen from the crown of the head to the tailbone, shoulders drawn down the back to lengthen the neck. Keep the chest broad and shoulders engaged down the spine. Take a few deep breaths.
      5. Lower all the way down on to the mat or straighten the arms and press back up to high plank.


If you feel tension or pressure in your lower back while in high plank, the hips are probably sagging. Lengthen the tailbone towards the heels (think flat butt) to elongate the lower back.

yoga move

If there is still tension, lower to the knees, keeping the hips in a straight line from the knees to the crown of the head. Hug the elbows in while they bend, avoid splaying them out wide as you would in a traditional pushup. Avoid sliding the elbows back as the arms bend.
yoga position

Avoid rounding the shoulder heads towards the fingertips.
yoga modification

Because this is an extremely challenging pose, students often rush through it compromising the integrity of the pose. The exhale breath should be long and complete, taking the student from high plank down through chaturanga.

eliza darlingHawaii resident, mama and yoga instructor Eliza Darling has been practicing yoga for nearly a decade. After graduating from high school in the remote community of Hana on the eastern coast of Maui, she lived briefly in Europe, before moving to Honolulu to finish her undergraduate studies. It was there that she attended her first yoga class, and from that point on began to involve yogic techniques such as pranyama breathing and asana, into her physically active life. Shortly after earning a Bachelor’s of Arts from the Hawaii Pacific University, she and her husband moved to California, where she began to incorporate the physical and spiritual intricacies of yoga into her life through a disciplined practice. She furthered her dedication and passion for yoga by earning a 200 hour yoga teaching certificate through Corepower Yoga in San Diego, Calif.

Eliza and her husband moved back to Hana in early 2013, where she now teaches yoga full time in the small community of her childhood home. Her dynamic classes are a mix of Hatha and Power Vinyasa flow, integrating a deep focus on the breath, vigorous and creative sequencing, strong core work, precise attention to alignment, and set to the sounds of energizing playlists. Her classes are designed to inspire students to build and honor their physical strength and to arrive at a point of mental clarity by challenging their bodies and slowing and lengthening their breath. She encourages her students to create the vital bond between the body, mind, and breath. She also strives to create a bond in the community through the love and passion she and her students share for yoga.

Follow Eliza on Instagram @yogalovingypsy.