An Ode to Chaturanga
Oh, chaturanga dandasana. We’ve had a long and complicated relationship. I remember my first few yoga classes way back when, and how it was unclear to me that people were not in fact lowering themselves all the way to the floor. They were—gasp—hovering! And when I first tried you, how miserably I failed. You may not come easily, chaturanga, but perseverance pays off.
There is nothing like supporting your own body weight for building strength. Which is why you must not do a drive-by with this pose, cruising as fast as you can into upward facing dog. As Baron Baptise puts it in his book Journey Into Power, “A lot of students try to sneak their way past Low Push-Up and move directly from High Push-Up to the next pose, which is Upward Facing Dog, but I strongly encourage you not to do this.” Because skipping chaturanga is worse than a drive-by.
I’m pretty sure that chaturanga is not on many yogis’ favorite pose list. But the poses we don’t like tend to be the ones that benefit us the most. They are the ones that help us grow as yoga practitioners.
So even though I don’t have a deep love for it, I respect it. In fact, I’ve become slightly obsessed with chaturanga over the years—and not just for what it can do for me. I want to trouble-shoot everyone’s chaturanga pose on the yoga retreats I lead, for the simple reason that if you are doing it wrong, you are cheating yourself of one of yoga’s best gifts…not to mention probably setting yourself up for injury. Rotator cuff issue? Blame a bad chaturanga pose. I feel obligated to fine-tune this underdog of poses that holds together every vinyasa, every sun salutation like glue. Just call me the Chaturanga Cowgirl.
It’s hard to believe after all these years of teaching yoga that I get most excited about this pose. You’d think that by now I would be waxing poetic about a more flashy asana, like scorpion. Not so, because I really don’t care if you ever do scorpion. However, I do care if you do chaturanga properly, especially if you practice vinyasa flow yoga.
I’ve noticed how enthusiastic I get about the second yoga class on my retreats, when I typically troubleshoot chaturanga. We do lots and lots of chaturangas. I am not satisfied unless everyone is sore afterwards (because the best thing for being sore from yoga is…more yoga). And really, it’s not that I want everyone to be sore; I want to offer something that they can take home to improve their practice. But even if you don’t join me on retreat, you can still fine-tune your chaturanga.
No-nonsense, four-limbed staff pose: it ain’t flashy, but it’s packed with power. Do your yoga practice a favor: take the chaturanga challenge.
Here are some chaturanga DO’s, that will improve your form and the benefits to be had from this challenging pose.
1. Modify if you need to: not just if you are building up to the full pose, but when you are able to practice the full pose but aren’t feeling 100%. Modifications to choose from: a) Drop to your knees to lower down from plank, but make sure to keep your hips forward and your shoulders over your wrists; b) Lower from plank all the way to the floor and come into cobra from there.
2. Use a block to help you physically understand how low to go. Don’t release your weight into the support of the block, try to just lightly touch it with your belly/lower ribs.
3. Practice cupcake chaturanga: Imagine there is a cupcake on the floor in front of your yoga mat. You want to position your mouth right over it as you lower from plank. That means your head has to stay lined up with your spine (no cranking the neck and throwing the head back). You also want to hover long enough to be able to bite the cupcake. This may be the most effective and Bad Yogi-approved chaturanga motivation ever.
And remember: no chaturanga drive-bys.
Yeehaw & Namaste.
(Photos by Larry Stanley Photography.)
Over to you: Do you drive-by your chaturanga, or any other pose? Tell us which one(s) you love to hate.