Chaturanga Dandasana…such a funny word to say. It reminds me of the time my husband told me what he would teach if I let him sub my yoga class: “Chimichanga, Chumbawumba, and Warrior 9”. Ohhhh dear. What a mess that class would be. But the truth of the matter is, I see a lot of really messed up chaturangas in my yoga classes on a weekly basis. I don’t blame my students either. Chaturanga (a yoga style push-up) literally means 4-limbed staff pose, and is a really challenging posture to master. It takes time and practice to develop the strength and body awareness to do it correctly. As an instructor, it’s difficult for me to take the amount of time needed to help each individual student find their perfect alignment in a 60 or even 75 minute class. As often as I encourage students to take modifications or to feel comfortable asking questions after class, few actually take me up on it. So here are some of my favorite chaturanga tips, as well as a handy tutorial video at the end for those who are more visual.
- PLANK is your friend! Start in a high plank with your hands shoulder width distance apart. Engage your whole core, plus your quads and glutes for extra stability. Then shift forward far enough so that your shoulders come over your finger tips. This way when you bend your elbows your arms will make a 90 degree angle. Squeeze your upper arms in towards your ribcage, and lower the whole plank shape down until your arms come to 90 degrees. From that position you can flip your toes down and come into upward facing dog. It’s two separate motions, and you’ll want to avoid that dipping or swooping motion that everyone seems to do when imitating yoga on TV. Dip and swoop is not a thing. If you are ever unsure of your chaturanga form, or feeling a bit fatigued, just hold a high plank and skip it altogether. I believe the official term for that is “not-aranga”. If you skip chaturangas sometimes, you are still cool, and we can still be friends. 😉
- Sometimes it’s better to take your knees. It’s easy to let your ego get in the way and feel like you need to go all out and do the most advanced expression of each posture. But yoga is all about letting go of your ego and learning to be ok with where you are right now (not that it’s always easy). Your yoga practice should build you up rather than break you down. If you find that you can’t sustain your plank as you lower, your back is arching, or your elbows are splaying, try it from your knees! They will give you the extra support you need to maintain the alignment of you plank and placement of your upper body as you lower. It will also save you from pain and potential injury in your lower back and shoulders. Best of all, it will help your build the strength needed to eventually do it correctly from a full plank.
- Props are fun for everyone! If you are lucky enough to have access to props like blocks and straps, or have a yoga instructor who offers different ways to use them, try it on! I demonstrate a couple of my favorite ways to use blocks and straps for chaturanga alignment on the video. I see so many students who are hesitant to use props in their practice, and I’m not sure why. Props are not a crutch, they are a way to enhance your practice and feel things in a new way. Nobody (especially not even me) is too advanced to use props in yoga!
- You are never too experienced to improve. In fact, when I was taking the photos for this blog post, my friend and fellow teacher pointed out that I was dropping my shoulders too low. Spread your collarbones wide, avoid over stressing your shoulders by going past 90 degrees, keep your core engaged, squeeze your elbows in to your sides–these are cues we hear on a regular basis. And it’s so easy to say “I know I know” and blow it off. Be present and check yourself anyway. You might just learn something new about your body and prevent an injury.
- Yoga is NOT one-size-fits-all. Your body proportions such as the length of your arms vs. your torso, the size of your chest, etc. can make chaturanga look and feel a little different for you than for the person next to you. If you aren’t sure if you are doing it correctly or something doesn’t feel quite right, ASK your instructor! I seriously love geeking out over yoga anatomy with my students, and will gladly hang out for a few minutes after class with anyone who wants to work on something. I think most yoga teachers feel that way! Personal connections are awesome. 🙂
Check out this tutorial video for clarification of these ideas and feel free to ask questions in the comments section!