What is Chaturanga, Why Should You Care and How to Get There (someday)

📸 credit  @ginahouse

📸 credit @ginahouse

What is Chaturanga? 🤔

I realized recently in class that some of you have been wondering what this mysterious Sanskrit word means for some time!

Chaturanga translates to four limbed staff pose and is the posture you see pictured here. You’ll often find this posture in the sequence of poses called “a vinyasa” that goes - down dog, plank, chaturanga, up dog, down dog.

Why should you care about this pose?

This pose gets a lot of attention in the yoga world because it can be so difficult to perform well. The high number of repetitions you’ll find of this pose in a typical vinyasa yoga class and the fast speed at which they’re performed can also can invite sloppiness and therefore repetitive stress injury over time. However, if done well this posture can be very beneficial for modern bodies in many ways.

This posture and the strength you’ve gained when you’re able to do it well are also a prerequisite for postures such as arm balances and some inversions. Find confidence here and you’re more likely to have confidence in those poses as well.

As with any yoga posture (or with anything worth doing really), attention to the technical details allow for greater understanding and discernment in their execution. That translates to more safety, more ease, more knowing of yourself and your body… in short, more yoga (i.e. union). And isn’t that what we’re all looking for anyway?

How do you get there?

One way you can get yourself ready for doing a good healthy Chaturanga is by doing some fairly simple mini pushups with the knees down.

I know. I should put a trigger warning on the word pushup.

But it really isn’t that bad. As with any yoga movement, YOU get to decide how intense (or not) this one is.

The key things to remember are that you want to make sure your elbows HUG IN toward your ribs strongly (very different from the way most of us were taught to do pushups in the past) and that your elbows point BACK toward your hips as you bend them.

Some other important details - don’t let the head drop forward and don’t let the low ribs flare out. In other words, make sure your core is working to support your spine so you don’t get overly curved in your low back.

Here’s a video to help you visualize this strengthening movement:

Careful repetition with attention to the details, like so many things, is key to building the strength you’ll need for a good Chaturanga.

I hope that helps start to make this pose more accessible for you. Stay tuned for a workshop all about this pose next month and in the meantime, feel free to leave me a comment with any questions you have!

P.S. Check out our YouTube channel! We’re starting to add more content over there about yoga, meditation, mantra and more each week!

Shoulder shredder no more!!

Shoulder ShredderNo More!.png

There's this old joke in the yoga world that Chaturanga is Sanskrit for shoulder shredder. Yikes! As is true with many things like that, the joke probably sprang from some bit of truth. In so many vinyasa yoga classes this is a posture that is often rushed through, misunderstood and therefore misaligned, and doesn't often get much slow precise attention because of being rushed and misunderstood. I know that certainly was the case for me for a long time.

Today I'd like to bring a bit of clarity to the basics of this pose so whether you can do it or not, you have a better understanding of what it is and how to work towards gaining enough strength to do it well.

First off, the actual translation of the Sanskrit name Chaturanga is Four Limbed Staff pose. This already tells us a great deal about the actual posture! Our four limbs are involved, and it's a pose that emulates a staff. When you think of a staff, it might draw to mind something like this:

This was as close to Gandalf as I could get without copyright infringement! ;-)

This was as close to Gandalf as I could get without copyright infringement! ;-)

Ignoring any magical connotations (although it can be pretty magical when you can finally do Chaturanga well!) notice that the staff pictured here is long, straight and strong looking. If we leave out our arms for a moment, we can translate that into the pose and our body by thinking of it as long and straight like a staff. Remind you of anything?

Plank.png

Yep. Plank pose. Plank pose is mostly commonly the pose we're in before we attempt Chaturanga. Our plank pose needs to be strong and well aligned first. Notice in the picture above that there is a very distinctive straight line from the heels right up through the crown of the head.

Sometimes we refer to plank as a high pushup and Chaturanga as a low pushup. But here's the catch - your belly/hips should not touch the floor in Chaturanga. By all appearances, to move from plank to Chaturanga you simply bend your arms and lower part way to the floor. (That isn't actually true by the way. The transition between plank and Chaturanga is another topic which I'm happy to write about if there's interest. Let me know in the comments!) The four limbs (or really your hands and the balls of your feet) should be the only things touching the floor.

And if you're really lucky, your photographer is quick with the shutter!

And if you're really lucky, your photographer is quick with the shutter!

Easier said than done! If you've ever tried it you probably know that stopping before you hit the ground is incredibly difficult. At least until you've gained the strength needed to do so. It's also really important for the shoulders that they don't fall below the elbows. You can see that pretty clearly in the image above. The muscles of the shoulder girdle need to be strong enough to keep the shoulder joint stable while it holds the weight of the body off the floor. That's probably how that old joke got started. So how can we build the strength we need to do this posture well?

You may have noticed in my classes this past couple of weeks we've been working quite a bit with back body strengthening postures. The muscles of the back of the body are often overstretched and weak due to our modern lifestyle (raise your hand if your slumping over a computer keyboard or hand held device right now! Made you straighten up, didn't I?! ;-)). Some of these postures other than plank, as mentioned above, include:

- Locust pose: With the belly down on the mat the back body muscles MUST fire in order to lift the limbs. We've also been including some breast strokes to increase the challenge of this back body strengthening posture.

- Mini push ups with the knees down: Without the strength to do the posture well, the shoulders can be put under undue strain and stress. Here we take the weight of the body out of the equation to focus on alignment of the shoulders and arms and to build upper body strength to sustain the pose.

- Forearm plank: To me, this pose can feel like an all-over workout! Your core is supporting the spine, the legs are strongly helping to activate the core and the shoulder girdle and upper body are sustaining the weight of your body. This is also nice if you have any pain in your wrists; you can take them right out of service and still gain strength. 

If you find you struggle with poor posture throughout the day, strengthening the core and the back body line will allow your posture to improve as well. 

There are many other aspects of this posture that are important to understand but beyond the scope of this blog post. If you'd like even more clarity around this pose, be sure to sign up or join the waiting list for my Yoga Fundamentals: Shoulders & Chaturanga workshop coming up this month or schedule a private lesson with me for even more individual attention! If you have specific questions, I'd love to hear them! Leave a comment below.

I wish you strong stable shoulders!