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