Yoga teacher Carly Rogers takes you through to improving your alignment and mastering the Chaturanga.
If you've ever taken a flowing yoga class, you'll have heard the word Chaturanga and most likely moved through it yourself. This commonly misunderstood posture makes frequent appearances (hello every single vinyasa!) in class but is all too often performed incorrectly or treated as a transition into upward facing dog, rather than an asana (posture) in its own right. Get to grips with the posture by trying these key steps and alignment cues.
Move FORWARDS, then down
So often I see people lower straight down from high plank, setting themselves up for poor alignment and unnecessary pressure on the joints risking injury (especially in classes where students move through multiple vinyasa). The key is to shift your weight forwards a few inches first so that the shoulders move beyond the wrists so that when you lower down the arms form right angles with the elbows stacking over the wrists and shoulders in line with the elbows.
Keep those elbows hugging into your ribs
Another common mistake is to let the elbows move out towards the side, as if you were performing a traditional push up. As soon as this happens, you lose the strength and integrity of your shoulder girdle making it far harder to lower with control. Hug the elbows into the body as you lower, so that the elbows move back (rather than out to the side). Whilst building strength in the posture, it can be helpful to squeeze the elbows and upper arms into the side of the ribs to provide extra support for the torso.
Core is key
Chaturanga may look as though it requires superhuman upper body strength, and while yes, building strength in the shoulders and triceps will help find ease in the posture, the strength of the core is just as crucial, if not more so. Think about lifting your belly button towards your spine and up towards your ribs to engage your abdominal lock. Whilst doing so, draw the sitting bones back towards the feet so that the bottom doesn't stick up out of line with the chest. Pressing back through the soles of your feet (ask someone to put their fists to your feet and push back firmly into them to help the body learn the sensation) will also help by engaging the legs so that the effort of the posture is taken more evenly through the entire body.
Don't be afraid to modify
You don't have to start in high plank to practice your chaturanga. Lowering the knees is a great way to build strength and alignment as you work towards the full expression. Whether your start in high plank or with the knees down, you will have your hands stacked below the shoulders, middle fingers pointing forwards and everything else about the movement into the posture remains the same. Another option is to lower with control from your knees down position to modified chaturanga THEN tuck the toes and lift the legs to take the full expression.
Find length through the entire body
Like many postures in yoga, chaturanga is very much about stacking the joints and finding length from head to toe. Key alignment cues to keep in mind are:
· Elbows over wrists
· Ankles over toes
· Shoulders in line with elbows
· Body in one straight line from head to toe
· Chin lightly tucked
Remember, it's a posture not a transition
Hooray you made it! Now that you're here, hold it! Often students will let themselves lower completely to the ground as soon as they get here, but chaturanga is a wonderful asana in its own right that strengthens, tones and energises the whole body. Stay here, focusing on keeping the core engaged, elbows pulled in towards the ribs and legs active by pushing back through the heels until your teacher cues the next posture, or for at least one breath whilst you are building strength to hold the pose.