Do you want to improve your core? Then welcome to chaturanga 101!
It may sound like a saucy dance move, but this pose is more like a yoga-push up than anything else. A common element of hatha yoga sequences such as sun salutations, this pose can be done as many as 60 times in a class!
Despite how common this pose is, it requires some serious strength and attention to proper form to avoid injury in the shoulders or elbows. This is one of my favorite poses to assign to beginners as homework, because you can build so much whole-body strength and body awareness by spending time here. It’s also a key pose to master before attempting any arm balances.
This week we’re going to break down the form, talk modifications, and go through a few different ways to build strength here.
Step 1: Plank it out
Begin in plank (i.e. the top of a push-up). Shoulders are over the wrists, fingers spread wide, and the hips and shoulders are in one horizontal line.
Hug the navel into the spine, slightly puffing up the low back by gently tucking the tailbone – you’re looking for a very subtle hollow body shape, hugging the front body in to find a flat back.
Squeeze the glutes and the leg muscles! You want whole-body activation here. Gazing slightly forwards, reach the crown of the head forward and the heels back. Keeping all of this…
Step 2: Think long and strong
With an inhale, shift your weight forward, coming onto the tiptoes, and shoulders come just forward of the wrists. From here…
Step 3: Get low
With your exhale, bend the elbows, pointing them straight back behind you. Keep thinking long and strong and like a plank with your body.
Elbows keep hugging in, brushing the sides of the ribcage as you lower to a 90o bend in the elbows. Ta-da! Chaturanga!
Step 3.5 (optional): Take a knee
At any point, did your hips start to sag, or your belly drop, or your chin come too quickly to the ground, like the “DON’T” examples below?
Take a step back, and start again in plank, lower the knees to the ground. Then try moving through the same actions with some extra support.
Have yoga blocks handy? Use them to help keep your form in check.
Try placing blocks at their tallest height in front of the hands, touching the middle fingers.
Lower into chaturanga so the shoulders just graze the blocks (*note: this may not work perfectly based on your body mechanics, but it’s a good guide for the average set of human arms!)
Try placing the blocks (or another rectangular object) against the wrists so the forearms touch the blocks lightly.
As you lower to chaturanga (and maybe lift back up in a push-up), try to keep the forearms lightly touching the blocks without knocking them over.
Plank hold: holding in plank is the first stepping stone to a strong chaturanga. If you have trouble keeping your hips or belly from sagging as you lower, start here. The option to drop the knees and hold a plank with the knees down is always available. Try holding a firm, strong plank with good form as long as you can. Try to build up to at least 30 seconds.
The slow lower: This is exactly what it sounds like. You lower from plank, through chaturanga, all the way to your belly, keeping your form all the way down. The trick is to not let yourself collapse once the elbows start to bend. Your entire body should softly touch the ground at the same time. Try to lower for a slow count of 3, working up to a 10 count lower, remembering to lower the knees if you start to collapse through your core.
Chaturanga hold: So you’re in chaturanga and you feel pretty good. Now what? Hang out there. Keeping your form (sense a theme here?), start with one full breath here. Work your way up to 5, 10…
Yogi push-ups: Try keeping your hips and shoulders horizontal, belly strong, and push back up to plank. Too much? Drop the knees and try again. Start with one rep, adding on when you can. I like to include at least 5 reps with good form in my daily practice.
Hops: breezing through all of the exercises and ready for beast mode? Try some chaturanga hops. Start in chaturanga, squeeze all of your muscles extra tight, lowering a little to load your spring, then press firmly into the hands and toes lifting off the ground. Keep squeezing your elbows in/core to navel/legs together and try to land right back in chaturanga. Even more challenging is to lift up high enough to clap the hands before landing.
Some Final Tips:
- The form comes first: don’t let your ego force you to go further than you’re ready for. You’ll still build strength and the muscle memory you need by modifying
- Don’t rush: it’s tempting to breeze through this pose because it’s hard, but that’s an easy way to lose track of your form. It’s far better to modify with the knees down and move a little slower so you can keep your form strong
- Take a knee: I’m going to keep saying it over and over and over and over
- Elbows in: they’ll want to wing out. Don’t let them! Squeeze those elbows in so you can feel them against your sides as you lower.
- Don’t forget about your legs: we tend to focus on the upper body here, but don’t forget about the legs! Your legs are strong, and likely larger than your arms, so use them! Firm up the quads and glutes as you lower to help your upper body out.
- Move with your breath
- Use a friend or your phone: not sure what your form is like? Ask your yoga teacher. Or ask a friend. Or use that fancy smartphone to take a quick video. This is a great way for some personalized feedback.
So there we have it folks. Yet another great Yoga class specially created for you by our yoga guru, Brogan Kiss. Remember, maintaining a strong core is crucial to enjoying your hiking and biking adventures now and into your senior years. Try to do this movement as often as possible, either at home or at the gym.
Check out our other Yoga specials here.
See you outside!
Author: Brogan Kiss
Brogan is a yoga teacher and student, geological engineer, hiker, runner, cyclist, lover of ice cream and salty hair and going on all kinds of adventures. She’s currently located on Canada’s northwest coast.
Check out her Instagram page @ instagram.com/brogankk/