During teacher training, my first homework assignment was to have someone take a picture of me doing chaturanga. I’m not going to lie – I was surprised by what I saw. More on that later.
Chaturanga, aka “yoga push-up”, or low plank, is part of the Sun Salutations near the beginning of a typical Vinyasa class. If this means nothing to you, basically it’s the part of class where the teacher calls a bunch of poses in a fairly rapid sequence of one movement per breath. This is where a lot of beginning students (or even those who have been practicing for awhile, for that matter), may be glancing around, trying to keep up with the teacher’s cueing and the movements of the “regulars” without falling behind. I don’t know about you, but when I was a newb, falling behind seemed like the sure mark that I didn’t quite fit in yet. Kind of like being the new kid at school and not realizing that everyone at your new school has moved on to a way cooler backpack than the one you were still sporting from your old school.
With all of this new-kid-at-school anxiety going on, it becomes easy to miss out on some of the idiosyncrasies that make chaturanga different from the pushups you’ve been doing since the old grade-school gym class push-up/sit-up/sit-and-reach physical fitness test. You know the one I’m talking about.
Chaturanga is often utilized to transition between high plank and upward facing dog. The fast pace of the vinyasa flow can contribute to a tendency to lose focus on alignment. Also, low plank requires strength – in the arms and core – which may not have yet developed for someone new to yoga. Regardless, even some of the physically strongest individuals can unknowingly place emphasis on the wrong muscles when taking chaturanga. Over time, this can potentially lead to issues such as repetitive motion injuries (to be more specific, think rotator cuff). Now don’t get me wrong – yoga injuries are incredibly uncommon. As one of my teachers, Melissa, often says, this practice is “stupid safe”. I just want to highlight how important it is to be aware of proper alignment during this quick “transition” pose. I also want to cover ways to modify chaturanga, for those who are still building strength, recovering from an injury, or just plain tired.
chaturanga – the break down:
From downward-facing dog, shift your body weight forward to high plank:
- Stack the tops of your shoulders directly over your wrists
- Keep your core engaged – RST:
- R = ribcage (pull your lower ribs in)
- S = shoulder blades (back and down, lats turned on)
- T = tailbone (tucked under so lower spine is in a neutral position)
- Lift your thighs – your entire body is a straight line
- Hug your quad muscle to bone (your legs are working)
- Push back through your heels (if your legs aren’t talking to you at this point, go back 2 bullet points)
- Gaze straight down (neck is nice and long)
Moving into low plank:
- Shift your body weight forward, rolling onto your toes
- Lift your gaze
- Pull your sternum up; broaden through your chest
- Maintain your active core
- Bend your elbows and lower your body
- Elbows and wrists at 90°
- Elbows squeeze into your sides and back (hug your lower ribs)
- Shoulders stay higher than elbows
From here, you’ll move into up dog on the in-breath
From high plank, lower your knees to the ground. Do chattaranga (same alignment steps, just with knees down). This will help you maintain proper form while building the strength to do the full pose.
a cool trick:
To really turn your core on and get those rockin solid legs/yoga abs I know you’re all dying for, try picking up a yoga block (a foam roller works too) and placing it between your upper thighs in high plank. Now squeeze that block super tight and maintain the squeeze as you lower into chaturanga.
things to pay attention to:
- Shoulders to hands placement
- The further forward the shoulders are from the hands, the more strain ends up in the shoulders
- Elbows to wrists
- Elbows over wrists puts strain on the shoulder & increases the wrist angle
- Elbows slightly behind wrists (for most people) brings center of the chest and weight closer to the line between their hands
- Losing integrity of the core
- Tendency for the lower back to drop toward the floor and tailbone to poke up
- Counter by keeping your legs very active and turned slight inward (thighs should be on fire, isn’t that what you came for anyway?)
- Hunched shoulders
- Create space for your neck by engaging the muscles around your scapula to pull your shoulder blades back and down
- Lift tops of shoulders up and drop the center of your chest down
- Rule of thumb is shoulders for earrings are never in style!
Chaturanga is great strength-building pose. It engages the entire core, which ultimately enables us to work toward more advanced poses like dolphin and headstand. It will definitely serve you well to pay attention to maintain safe and efficient movement through the shoulders. This is especially relevant to Crossfitters and other athletes whose regular workout regimens are enhanced by good shoulder mobility. Ultimately, it applies to anyone really, because who doesn’t want a strong, stable core and healthy shoulders?
I encourage you to try this pose out in front of a mirror or friend. Might even be a great photo op (#yogaselfies). Just try not to beat up on yourself if your alignment isn’t 100% perfect. I say this because that is exactly what I did two years ago during teacher training. I actually asked my sister to retake the photo 2 or 3 times. Ridiculous, I know. I totally let my ego take over.
Today, I realize that yoga isn’t about mastering every pose. While my ego still rears its ugly head every so often, a little awareness helps to shed light on the fact that an ego-driven mentality does not help me grow in my practice. My teachers did not ask me to take that picture to make sure I had awesome alignment, and they certainly did not intend for me to jump straight to a hypercritical over-analysis of how I looked in chaturanga. Rather, they were facilitating awareness – something that I now understand a little better. There is no such thing as perfection in yoga. Self-admittedly having a tendency toward perfectionism, this is something I am consistently working to let go of. Yoga is all about the practice. Bringing awareness to the process is a tool that helps enhance the practice. So when you embark on your next chaturanga, see if you can approach it not as a check-the-box, gotta-get-everything-right-or-else, do-or-die method. You will absolutely not kill yourself if you mess it up a few times. Rather, see if you can take a holistic, this-is-what-we’re-working-toward approach, and add a couple more awareness tools to your toolbelt as you go about building your yoga practice.
PS – planning on adding more pictures (and hopefully fewer words) in future blog posts for any of you visual learners! If you’re looking for some extra chaturanga lovin’ here are a couple resources:
David Keil – shoulder/chaturanga anatomy lesson:
Youtube video demoing chattaranga and two different modifications: