Yoga Practice

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Roxanne Kelly

    May 24, 2016 at 1:21 pm

    I think it sucks that vinyasa (aka sun salutation) is cued so many times in yoga classes. Most people can’t do it with good alignment, especially the transitions from high plank to chaturanga to updog. Alternatives are given: “go thru your vinyasa or skip it”, or “you can always lower to your knees”. Which basically says, do 100%, 0%, or 30% effort. I have been teaching classes with a 70% option: high plank, lower 1 forearm then other to dolphin plank (you can hold people here for strength building for a few breaths), then lower the knees, untuck the toes, and lower torso to sphinx. Drag hands back under shoulders, lower chest to mat, then push up to updog (or cobra), etc. Obviously more cues can be given, but you get the idea of the sequence modification. An intermediate option is needed because students will do the 100% option whether they have correct alignment or not, especially when the 30% option becomes too easy for them. Repetition of bad alignment will cause damage over time to their joints, so we owe it to them as teachers to not prompt them thru endless vinyasas if we can see that many people in the class can’t do them. Feel free to try out this sequence and steal it if you want to! It feels better to me, it is a few more steps in the flow, but it maintains the main idea of the vinyasa flow so it can still be used to transition people from standing to the floor, etc.

  2. Amanda

    Amanda

    May 24, 2016 at 4:23 pm

    I love the block idea! That’s a great way to explore it. I’m going to use it in my teaching. 🙂 Thank you!

  3. Avatar

    Bu

    May 19, 2017 at 1:30 am

    I love it!

    I’m trying to go deeper into the “simple” poses to really understand them and strengthen my whole practice. Foundation is everything. (Shoutout to Erin’s classes on things like Down Dog and other “basics”!)

    I’m definitely adding the cupcake to my Bad Yogi practice — one more motivation to fully engage in that Chaturanga every time! 🙂

  4. Gregory Ormson

    Gregory Ormson

    June 16, 2019 at 11:22 am

    Hi Margaret, when (as writers or teachers) we post photos and/or offer advice, it’s easy to misconstrue the intent behind our words. For example, I think you were getting at the idea that IN TIME we build our strength. For some, this time of building will be discouraging. You’ve told us that it wasn’t easy at first for you either, but by practice all of us learn to either modify or we become stronger.

  5. Gregory Ormson

    Gregory Ormson

    June 16, 2019 at 11:24 am

    p.s. I read your article because I loved the title. Odes always get me 🙂

  6. Avatar

    Maria Mason

    June 16, 2019 at 9:04 pm

    I like the cupcake trick. After reading this article, I’m motivated to check my own form and see what I can improve upon.

    Thanks so much.

    Maria
    https://wwwTheYogaChick.com

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