How to Nail Your Next Chaturanga

Chaturanga dandasana is tough, especially when starting out with your yoga practice! Nail your next chaturanga with these tips on improving form.

Whenever we decide to learn how to perform a new exercise, the progress looks a little like this:

  • Um, what. How do I do THAT?
  • [During the first set] Okay, this is weird. I feel like I’m going to mess up. Yup, currently messing up.
  • [Second set] Hm, so this is interesting. Oh, THAT’S how my body is supposed to move! Am I supposed to feel it here, or *here*?
  • [Third set and beyond] BAM, I got this now! Look at me go! Untz-untz-untz…

Making progress with yoga poses is like strength training. Without proper body awareness and knowing which muscles to engage – and which joints to back off of – we can set ourselves up for some pretty serious injury. Example: weak glutes and hamstrings led to my run-in with a hamstring strain. Months later, it will STILL give me occasional issues.

Chaturanga Dandasana

How to Nail Your Next Chaturanga - Hello to Fit

In a vinyasa or power yoga class, chaturanga might be one of the most frequently-performed yoga poses. It’s ironic, because I feel like it’s one of the toughest (basic) poses to master. We lower down halfway into chaturanga dandasana during a vinyasa, a movement sequence that takes us from standing in mountain pose back to downward facing dog.

Why master a chaturanga? Similar to the benefits of a push-up, chaturangas are great for building strength throughout the muscles in the upper body and trunk. Better movements can translate to better breathing and flowing during a practice, all while avoiding injury!

How to Nail Your Next Chaturanga

A friendly yogi-reminder: this is not your personalized tutorial! Before trying this or any exercise listed on the website, consult with your doctor or fitness professional.

When learning a new exercise, it can be helpful to see it done correctly and INcorrectly. A little form-comparison helps us keep an eye on what WE’RE doing on our mats. Therefore, I’ve included all types of chaturangas: correct ones, modified versions, ones with bad form, and downright painful-looking ones. Shall we start with the correct ones?

Chaturanga From High Plank

How to Nail Your Next Chaturanga - Hello to Fit

So, planks: we meet again! If you’re a routine reader of HTF, I hope you know the form cues for planks by now. Not quite? No worries! Wrists under shoulders, don’t lock the elbows. Neck is strong – no hanging around, AKA look somewhere between your fingers and the top of your yoga mat. Hips should be in a (diagonal) line from the shoulders, and abs are ENGAGED. Like you’re about to cough. Glutes are squeezed, quads are contracted, and heels extend towards the end of the mat.

How to Nail Your Next Chaturanga - Hello to Fit

Now, here’s the tricky part, but follow along: from high plank, push forward towards your tippy toes. This will allow you to achieve a 90 degree angle at the elbows when lowering down. Okay, next: as you bend your elbows and lower your chest down towards the ground, hug your elbows towards your ribs. Note: this does not mean rest your ribs on your elbows.

Another important cue to keep in mind: shoulders should not lower down past elbows. That can put a lot of stress on the shoulder and elbow joints; we want the MUSCLES to do the work! Head is strong and looking slightly ahead…no straining in the neck!

Chaturanga From Modified Plank

If you’re still working up to performing chaturanga from a high plank position, but aren’t quiet strong enough, hakuna matata! There’s a modification for everyone. Follow the above instructions, but keep your knees down and begin in modified plank.

How to Nail Your Next Chaturanga - Hello to Fit

How to Nail Your Next Chaturanga - Hello to Fit

How to Nail Your Next Chaturanga - Hello to Fit

Pointing up Here’s what a chaturanga should look like from the front: my fingers are spread out to alleviate pressure on wrists, and shoulders are not going so low that you can see my elbows.

How to Nail Your Next Chaturanga - Hello to Fit

Pointing upHere is what an incorrect chaturanga looks like. My elbows are splayed out to the sides – ouch. The correction would be to pull the elbows IN towards the midline.

Watch Out For These Incorrect Versions

While there are many more than just three incorrect versions, I thought we’d start with the most common ones. Can you pick out what’s wrong with each?

How to Nail Your Next Chaturanga - Hello to Fit

Two red flags with this chaturanga: hips are not level with the shoulders, which also makes it hard to get the elbows down to a 90-degree bend. We hold a lot of weight in our hips, and it’s much easier when they appear to be out of the picture. But next time you start chaturanga – and there’s a mirror nearby – do a quick hip-check!

How to Nail Your Next Chaturanga - Hello to Fit

The above example shows a similar problem – my body isn’t strong enough to support my hips as I lower down to chaturanga. The result? Hips go all kookie and arms are like, “Nope! Not helping.” To avoid strain in the low back, it would be a good idea to drop down to the modified plank position and go from there.

How to Nail Your Next Chaturanga - Hello to Fit

This ones tough. Nothing looks THAT bad, right? My hips are in line with my shoulders, I’m not straining my neck. Heck, this looks like a PUSH-UP! And you’re right. It’s a push-up. While this movement isn’t wrong, it’s not quite right for yoga. My elbows are poking out, and I need to pull them IN towards my ribs.

Feel Like a Yogi-Boss By Mastering Your Chaturanga

There’s a reason why your yoga teacher can be a stickler for form, similar to why your personal trainer would constantly remind you to sit back into your heels when you squat. Avoiding injury is the name of the game, my friends! Mastering form for basic poses – like chaturanga dandasana – can be a building block for more advances poses, arm balances, etc. So, next time you find yourself on your yoga mat, do a little form check. Your joints and muscles will thank you in the future.

Pin for later!

How to Nail Your Next Chaturanga - Hello to Fit


To all my yogis on the East Coast! Kathryn Budig is coming to Charlottesville, VA October 28-30th, and it’s going to be a blast! Sign-ups have started for her master class and workshops. If you’re interested, check out the details here. This event will be hosted by FlyDog Yoga. We can’t wait to flow with Kathryn!

Let’s chat:

  • Are there any other break-downs of yoga poses that you’d like to see on HTF?
  • How often do you practice yoga?

By Jess

Jess is a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and yoga teacher. She enjoys sharing her passion and enthusiasm for health and fitness with friends, family, clients, and readers.

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19 comments

  • CARLA

    September 28, 2016 at 5:54 am

    ahhh this is so so so timely for me as well.
    THANK YOU.
    <3 <3 <3

  • Susie @ SuzLyfe

    September 28, 2016 at 7:16 am

    One of the most helpful assists a yoga teach ever did for me was to tell the class to put their arms through the loop of a yoga strap while doing chaturanga so that you couldn’t go too low–it changed how I chat!

  • Gretchen

    September 28, 2016 at 7:29 am

    Great tips! I’ll keep this in mind at my class tomorrow 🙂
    Gretchen recently posted…Wednesday Reviews : Skinny Coconut OilMy Profile

  • Deborah @ Confessions of a mother runner

    September 28, 2016 at 8:23 am

    Great tips and great form! I always see people making those mistakes in class. Great exercise when done correctly right?!
    Deborah @ Confessions of a mother runner recently posted…Sometimes You Just Need A Quickie-10 minute Glute WorkoutMy Profile

  • jill conyers

    September 29, 2016 at 5:08 am

    Awesome how-to Jess. Easy for all levels to follow.

    1. Jess

      September 30, 2016 at 6:02 pm

      Thanks, Jill!! I loved your post about burnout, by the way. Thank you 🙂

  • Emily

    September 29, 2016 at 4:05 pm

    It’s interesting how you have to get it just right or you will put unnecessary strain on other muscles in our bodies; it’s absolutely amazing how God made our bodies to be happy at that balance. I’m going to try to do this, and see if I can master it with your pictures.
    Emily recently posted…Strawberries n’ Cream Smoothies and More Summer Smoothies!My Profile

    1. Jess

      September 30, 2016 at 6:01 pm

      Yes, exactly! Our body has amazing ways in which it compensates and works around things, even if that can lead to injury. Just amazing.

  • Chrissa – Physical Kitchness

    September 29, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    DANG girl look at your triceps! #armgoals I love you tutorials and how you demonstrate incorrect form. It’s SO helpful! You are an inspiration 🙂
    Chrissa – Physical Kitchness recently posted…Healthy Apple Pie GranolaMy Profile

    1. Jess

      September 30, 2016 at 6:01 pm

      Hi, love!! Hahah thanks. And glad they help! I love seeing incorrect versions…hehehe.

  • Jen

    September 29, 2016 at 7:34 pm

    Love these tips, Jess! Such an informative post! I’ve been making sure my shoulder don’t dip these days!
    Jen recently posted…Why I Stopped Working Out and 3 Tips If You Are Considering ItMy Profile

    1. Jess

      September 30, 2016 at 6:00 pm

      Thanks, Jen! I totally used to dip my shoulders down, but now I’m more aware too 🙂

  • Kristen

    September 29, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    Ooooh thank you for this! It’s so hard for me to do chaturanga and this breakdown really helps me see what it looks like and what I should be doing.
    Kristen recently posted…My Tour Du AnchorageMy Profile

    1. Jess

      September 30, 2016 at 6:00 pm

      Glad to help, Kristen! Happy Friday 🙂

  • Julie @ Running in a Skirt

    September 30, 2016 at 9:45 am

    Great tips! I was having so much trouble with these and a teacher finally broke it down for me after class. Really helped. Love your wall tip. Going to try that as I’m still getting enough upper body strength to nail it!

    1. Jess

      September 30, 2016 at 5:59 pm

      Thanks, Julie! Glad you are continuing to improve your upper body strength 🙂

  • Erin @ Erin’s Inside Job

    October 3, 2016 at 11:47 am

    For the once a year I do yoga, I’ll definitely remember these 🙂
    Erin @ Erin’s Inside Job recently posted…Yosemite National Park TripMy Profile

    1. Jess

      October 3, 2016 at 5:06 pm

      Haha we live for that one day 😛

  • Sam @ PancakeWarriors

    October 10, 2016 at 8:32 am

    Oh man the chaturanga. I remember my first yoga experience. It was 105 degrees and I had NO idea what I was doing. I was slipping on my mat and #hotmess doesn’t even explain it. But I could do the chaturanga since I had been working out for quite some time and that made me feel strong, and that I could eventually nail all the rest of the poses. Great tutorial!!
    Sam @ PancakeWarriors recently posted…Pumpkin Sunflower Seed ButterMy Profile

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