Now that we have strengthened our core with the Navasana, it is time to make the whole torso stronger.

The next asana is Chaturanga Dandasana. This will again take a few weeks to accomplish, maybe longer for some, so do not get discouraged.

The Chaturanga Dandasana helps build a strong core and overall body strength. It works on the shoulders, pectorals (chest) and latissimus dorsi muscle—the “broadest muscle of the back". It is important to execute this exercise properly to avoid injuries, so move slowly.

This week, we will start with some exercises that will help prepare the body and work on strengthening the back. This will also increase stability in the shoulders and the entire torso.

Cat stretch

Get on your hands and knees, with the hands shoulder-width apart, and the knees at hip-width distance. The shoulders should be in line with your wrists, and your hips directly over your knees. The spine is neutral.

Engage your abdominal muscles, or abs, by pulling your navel towards your spine, and round your back towards the ceiling. Allow the head and neck to fall naturally between the arms. Inhale as you do this action. As you exhale, lower the belly towards the floor, arching the back and allowing the head to come up.

Repeat this 10-12 times and then return to the neutral spine position.

Exercise 1

Again, go on all fours. The hands should be shoulder-width apart and knees, hip-width distance. Stabilize your core by pulling your navel in. Lengthen the spine by not hunching the shoulders, keeping your neck in line with your spine.

Take a few breaths here and then, exhale as you pull your knee into your chest—as your forehead moves towards your knee, the back naturally rounds. Remember to keep pulling in your navel as you do this. Inhale and lengthen the leg out. Repeat this 10-12 times on one side and then change legs.

Exercise 2

Maintain your position on all fours, keeping the body steady. Lift the right leg up and bring it parallel to the floor. The opposite hand goes up, parallel to the floor. Hold this position for a few breaths. It is important to keep the belly pulled in. Stabilize your shoulder muscles by pulling the shoulder blades down your back, chest lifted. Keep pushing the floor with the finger tips of the right hand. Try and keep your hips stable. After a few breaths, lower your hand and leg and change sides.

Repeat this exercise three-five times, one round being both sides, holding for as long as you can. Keep your breath steady.

After you finish the exercise, rest in the Child’s Pose. Lower your bottom to the floor on your heels and let your chest relax on your knees, head to the floor.

Exercise 3

When you feel relaxed, sit up and stretch the shoulders as they have been worked in the exercise above.

Sit in Vajrasana (with your bottom on your heels) or any comfortable sitting posture. Lift the right arm up and bend the elbow bringing your hand down towards the middle of your back, like you would scratch your back if you had an itch. Bend the left arm at the back behind and try to grab the fingers of the right arm. If it is impossible to grab the fingers, catch a towel or strap with the right hand and hold on to the cloth from behind.

Holding on to the towel, pull the belly in and keep the chest lifted, lengthening your spine. The neck stays in line with the spine, don’t bend the neck forward. Breathe a few times, then change sides.

Maya Rao is a certified Ashtanga Yoga practitioner.

This is fourth of the eight-part yoga challenge series. Click here for the previous parts.