If you practice hatha yoga or other restorative forms of yoga, there is a high probability that you have never tried Chaturanga. But it is a very common asana for anyone practicing flow yoga. For someone practicing the Ashtanga Primary Yoga Series, you could typically do a Chaturanga about 60 times in a single session. Therefore it becomes imperative to understand the Chaturanga alignment. It is a weight bearing exercise and practicing it with the wrong alignment over and over again would increase the chances of injury. In the long run you could end up with an impingement syndrome, a rotator cuff injury, elbow tendonitis etc. So instead of just pushing yourself to somehow do a Chaturanga, the aim should be to getting the alignment right even if it means that you are practicing a simpler modified version of Chaturanga. Chaturanga demands strength and most of us want to conquer the pose with muscle strength and will power.
For me as a beginner all the information was overwhelming. What was the point of doing an asana that would lead to injury? My initial reaction was to remove it completely from my regular practice. On second thought though learning more about it and adopting safe practices became a focal point. I had never put too much thought into alignment, but the fear of injury through Chaturanga kick stated my journey to understand the integration and alignment in yoga. Here is quick digest of all a beginner would need to know about Chaturanga.
First of all, what does Chaturanga really mean? Unlike most of other asanas that are better known by their english names, Chaturanga Dandasana the world over is always referred to by its Sanskrit name. It is basically a Four Limbed Staff Pose or Low Plank. Thus one should really look like a staff/stick in the final position.
Chatur – meaning “four”
Anga – meaning “limb”
Danda – meaning “staff”
Asana – meaning “pose”
Benefits: To stay motivated, I educated myself on the benefits first
- Strengthens arm, shoulder and leg muscles and flexibility. These were definitely areas that I had to work on.
- Develops core stability
- Prepares body for inversions and challenging arm balances – until I stated Ashtanga I never thought I would attempt arm balances. Even headstands really require arm and core strength, and Chaturanga is a starting point that prepares your body for other challenges.
- Begin in a high plank, with shoulders, elbows and wrists stacked over each other in a straight line
- As you exhale slowly lower the body to a few inches above the floor.
- Keep your back flat, lift your chest, keep shoulders in line with the elbows. Elbows stacked just above the wrists.
- Keep on engaging the abdominal and leg muscles.
Coming out of the pose:
- Just lower your body back on the mat and rest
- Experienced students can raise themselves up to a high plank again
- Those practicing sun salutations could just press forward into an upward facing dog
- Shoulders should not drop below the height of the elbows
- Elbows are stacked directly above the wrists.
- Keep the elbows tucked alongside the body, reaching toward the heels and do not let them wing to the sides
- The upper arm and forearm should create a perfect right angle
- Do not use sheer strength to stay in the pose. This will overuse the front muscles of the body. Utilize the back muscles of the body with equal effort as the front
Dristi: On the nose with the face pointing forwards
Breathing: You would usually perform the asana on an exhalation. In the Surya Namaskar A series one jumps into a Chaturanga on the fourth count, and in Surya Namaskar B, it is performed on the fourth, eighth and twelfth counts. If you are practicing the asana without a vinyasa, you would usually get into a Chaturanga from a high plank on an exhalation. Usual practice is to hold the asana for 30 seconds with continuous breathing (ujjayi breathing). One could also lift oneself up from the floor into a Chaturanga, though working against gravity could be more challenging.
Modifications/Variations: Always work with modifications if your body is not ready to support the alignment discussed above. Even after years of practice, modifications should be adopted on days when your body is not up for the challenge.
- From a high plank, bring the knees down first. Then lower the torso to hover an inch above the floor. This is Half Chaturanga. If Half Chaturanga is difficult just focus on Ashtanga Namaskar (Knees- Chest-Chin Pose) until one has built enough strength for a Half Chaturanga.
- Have a yoga belt strapped around the upper body to avoid flaring of the elbows
- Have a block or bolster to land on. This will ensure that you have perfect alignment until the time you can hold yourself up without any support.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
Tusita (200HR YTT April-June 2017)