Chaturanga is such a staple transitional pose in vinyasa practice that it’s easy to overlook the mechanics of what the body is actually doing in the pose.
While attempting chaturanga, many people compensate for their developing upper body strength by utilizing other areas of the body to achieve the pose. This isn’t ideal, since it’s possible to put unnecessary stress on the shoulder, wrist, or elbow joints.
I’ve practiced a vigorous style of yoga for years, and even I fall prey to misalignment. Recently, I’ve noticed that I haven’t been fully utilizing my shoulder muscles and biceps in chaturanga, and have instead been resting my body weight on my elbows.
I’ve been bringing more intentionality to my chaturangas by ensuring my elbows stack over my wrists, and that my elbows extend straight back from my shoulders. That means I have a little space between my elbows and sides, and that I engage my biceps a little more.
Are my shoulders parallel with the floor or is one shoulder dipping down? Are my elbows at a 90-degree angle? Are my elbows extended straight back from my shoulders rather than bowing away from the body like wings or clamping into the side body? Do I need to move to my knees to enter the pose with a healthy form? Are the core muscles engaged from sternum to quadriceps?
Now, come to your belly and place your hands by your sides at your low ribs, fingertips facing the same direction as your face. Press up into chaturanga, using your knees if necessary to assist. Reassess your alignment using the questions above. Next, think about how you feel. If you’re fatigued and too tired to approach the pose with intentional alignment, use your knees to aid yourself, or skip the pose altogether. It’s much better to modify or skip the pose than to force yourself into it with harmful alignment.
The more I advance in my practice, the more I actually modify or skip chaturanga. This allows me to conserve energy for later in class and to pace myself through class without getting so fatigued that my form gets sloppy. It took me a while to be okay with skipping a chaturanga or two (or five) during class. But ultimately, I learned to approach my practice with awareness and listen for my body’s physical cues urging me to push harder or pull back.
As you check in with your chaturanga — or any part of your practice, for that matter — may you find strength, balance, and awareness. Namaste!