Chaturangas Are Made, Not Born

Teacher’s Corner is a new blog series written by one of mang’Oh’s most experienced (and well-loved!) teachers, Chintamani Kansas. Chintamani also teaches and mentors in mang’Oh’s Teacher Training each year, and is the Core Yoga Director at mang’Oh. We will be posting Teacher’s Corner every two months, featuring a detailed look at issues and topics that are of particular interest to yoga teachers, both new and experienced. We hope you will enjoy Chintamani’s wealth of experience, as well as her fun and witty look at the world of yoga teaching!

Notice how Djuna has a very clear plank and keeps it all the way through the Chaturanga movement. Lovely!

A key pose in the Sun Salutation sequence, Chaturanga is a terrific pose for core integration, upper body strengthening, preparation for inversions, and bone-building. Technically, Chaturanga is the name of a single asana, or pose. However, in context of the Sun Salutation, Chaturanga also describes the transitional movement of flowing from Plank to Chaturanga. This flow is part of what makes Sun Salutations graceful and fun.

Chaturanga is also a tricky pose/movement to do well. Which makes it even more fun and satisfying once you get everything “online”!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a client or student say “I should be able to do this, why can’t I do this?” Or how many students I have seen try to power-through a Chaturanga with grim determination, without pausing to consider another, lighter, way.

Be kind to yourself! Musicians train and practice, and warm up with scales and arpeggios. Why do we expect our bodies to perform difficult asanas without training or warmups? Why do you think you should be able to do something you haven’t prepared for?

Chaturangas are made, not born. Most of us need a little practice and muscle-preparation to get everything to come together. It’s normal—and it’s how the universe made us—so it’s beautiful.

Try this!—Warmup Movements to Prepare for Chaturanga

Try coming early to class, doing a few stretches, then “pump” up with these beauties!

In this push-up we are seeking to practice the push-up with Chaturanga alignment, particularly lower arms mostly perpendicular to the floor, nipple line aligning with index finger tips, and moving no lower than sternum in line with elbow crease.

In the serratus pushup, the spine is straight as a broom stick, the arms are straight, and the shoulder blades are gliding together and apart on the back, which helps to strengthen the Serratus Anterior, a key muscle in skillful planks, Chaturangas, and inversions (and more). For added challenge, try it from a full plank position (not knees down on floor)!

Get Savvy! Key alignment points for skillful Chaturangas

  • Maintain the “plank” all the way through Chaturanga; keep ribs and core organized
  • Hands shoulders’ width apart
  • Chest is open, shoulders square
  • Nipple-line lining up with index finger tips
  • Sternum no lower than elbow crease
  • Elbows atop heels of hands, or slightly behind; elbows not splaying out or collapsing in
  • Lower arm bones pretty much perpendicular to floor (Note: some people’s elbows are pointier than others due to bone structure, so focusing on lower arm bones is a better landmark for learning alignment. Seek perpendicular lower arm bones, but follow your body’s cues and focus on integrated core & shoulders)
  • Weight on tips of toes

Easy Alignment

One easy way to find Chaturanga alignment is to practice from a standing position. Stand up, reach your arms straight forward, and extend your palms like you would in a plank. Then bend your elbows, bringing your lower arms parallel to the floor, elbows and heels of hands straight alongside body. Notice the index finger tips naturally fall into alignment with the nipple line.

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Common Issues

The warmup exercises and alignment awareness in this post will help to avoid the common issues that show up in Chaturangas. If you’ve ever experienced any of these issues, don’t feel guilty! Muscles need to be conditioned over time to do something challenging. The same goes for the mind-body connection. And if you took a break from practice, your pose may change when you get back—at least at first. You know the old saying: Use it or lose it rebuild it. Anything you wish to cultivate can be cultivated. All you need to do is practice with heart and awareness.

Watch out for these common issues:

  • Droopy head
  • Winging shoulder blades
  • Splayed elbows
  • Unawakened tummy muscles
  • Rounded fronts of shoulders
  • Hips high, shoulders low
  • Overuse of back muscles, underuse of chest muscles
  • Elbows on front of rib cage
  • Belly Flopping from plank to chaturanga, rather than lowering in one piece

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Common issues: crammed shoulder blades, droopy head

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Common issues: shoulders rounding forwards towards heart, diving upper body low, not keeping plank

Safety First

All of these alignment points are keys to practicing skillfully, but also safely. Chaturanga, in particular, is a challenging pose and movement; practicing with improper alignment can lead to injury. When in doubt, lower the knees first, and/or lower all the way to the floor before transitioning into upward facing dog. Your shoulder muscles will thank you! Remember, your yoga teachers are always happy to assist! Talk to us before or after class!

What’s Next?

This blog post focuses on the fundamentals of Chaturanga. In our next installment of teacher’s corner we will discuss more about the transition of Chaturanga into baby cobra, high cobra or upward facing dog.

Contributors:

Author: Chintamani Kansas

Models: Djuna Passman and Chintamani Kansas

Photos and Videos: AndrewMarkPhoto 

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mang’Oh Yoga Instructors Djuna Passman and Chintamani Kansas

About The Author:

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Chintamani teaches classic and specialty yoga in New York City. She is a longtime Teacher Trainer in the mang’Oh 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training Program, and the Director of Core Yoga at mang’Oh. She continues to study yoga, yoga therapy and other healing modalities, including Anatomy, Pilates and Mindfulness Meditation. Chintamani is certified in Embodied Anatomy and Yoga and Kane School Pilates.

Chintamani’s classes blend mindfulness, alignment and joyful movement; encouraging safety and skillfulness, as well as freedom and expression. Chintamani’s mission is to get us all to move, breathe, find our joy, and feel connected and smart.

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