My growing love for Chaturanga

Sept 7th – attending the 200hr teacher training – my first day at Tirisula Yoga and the day i set out on a path of self discovery. I had attended Pilates classes and yoga classes before though not on a regular basis so I was totally surprised to discover that my arms and core muscles are very very weak. This pose strengthens the arms and legs, tones the abdominals, builds healthy shoulders, and prepares students for arm balances, inversions, and backbends. And it’s character building.
My first chaturanga was a disaster. Basically I fell flat on my face (ok actually i fell flat on my chest) as my arms could not support me at all. I only realised how much strength was needed to do a good chaturanga. For someone who is able to hold a plank position for about 30 secs – 1 min and yet am not able to execute a decent chaturanga – it was kind of discouraging. Surya Namaskar was also difficult with the jump backs.
So after hearing the explanation (on the techniques and how I can practise starting with the 8 limb ashtanga pose) from the teacher of the day – Hui Yan – I realised that I have to work on lots of muscles. They are my chest muscles (pectoralis major and deltoids), arm muscles ( triceps and biceps), shoulder girdle (rhomboids and serratus anterior), back muscles (trapezius, erector spinae and supraspinatus) and abs (external oblique and rectus abdominis). So homework for the week was to practise chaturanga and dolphin push-ups. the workout and benefits I get from practising Chaturanga will serve me a long long way in my yoga practise as I learnt through the 1st 2 weeks of training. Furthermore the muscles that Chturanga strengthens prepares students for arm balances, inversions, and backbends.
There are many poses in the Astanga Vinyasa Primary series that requires the arms and core to be strong in fact very strong. There are the arm balancing poses like Bakasana (Crow pose), Tittibhasana (Firefly pose), Tolasana (Scale pose), Bhujapidasana (shoulder pressing pose) as well as the infamous headstand.
So this is what I did: practise plank pose often together with 2 sets of 15 reps dolphin pose. This has helped me a lot with my Chaturanga and also my headstand. After a week of daily practise, I managed to execute a Chaturanga (yippee!!) though not perfect (as my bums were still sticking up and heels not in line with my toes but I still managed to do 4 weeks has passed and I am able to execute every chaturanga needed in the Primary series. (yeah!)
Okay, at this point you might be thinking that chaturanga should not be that difficult as it is quite similar to a push up. Now here is the difference in my opinion – the mindset and body alignment. From my limited knowledge and exposure to the standard push up – the pose is done by lowering the upper body and most of the times, our butt will be sticking up and elbows wide. Palms might be placed at a distance wider than shoulder width, shoulders might be elevated to the ears and lastly winging of the scapulae. BUT… while doing the chaturanga, yogis will learn to be more aware of their body alignment – elbows close to body, next to chest, scapulae in neutral, shouders and neck relaxed body in a straight line starting from the crown of the head to the abs, bum, knees and heels. Hence this is the most challenging part of the pose – being aware of our own body alignment yet this is (also in my opinion) the 2nd most beneficial part of yoga as a whole.
It teaches the self to be aware of our body alignment and the more we practise the more it becomes part of our life and slowly it will creep its way into our lifestyle (the self discipline and energy awareness) and the way we project ourself to the world. True, there are other form of exercises that encourage that – ballet as well as pilates. However both of them does not give me a wholesome workout. In that I meant I was very focused getting my turn outs, attitude or arabesque to be better but I did not consider working the other muscles. It was all totally focused on just the upper back, hamstrings and so on. The emphasis was to be stronger and also it has to be aesthetically pleasing to the eye while on stage. Therefore with that, many dancers will do their best to give the best visual line possible and that might often be taxing on the natural body anatomy. So having said all that it is still my personal experience. Go on and attend a yoga class and experience it yourself.
Adeline Soon
YTT 200hrs weekday Sept 2015

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