Chaturanga: The Ultimate Guide By Elena Georgiou

Chaturanga is one of those asanas that seems oh-so-simple, but somehow, two years into your practice, your still thudding down onto the mat on your way into Upward Facing Dog. Lucky for you (and us!), MoreYoga instructor Elena Georgiou (@elenageorgiou262) is here to rescuse us from our face-planting days!

The Basics

 
What is chaturanga? 
In vinyasa styles of yoga Chaturanga Dandasana is part of sun salutations A and B The pose is sometimes referred to as a low plank and translates to the ‘Four-Limbed staff pose’. It’s considered quite a challenging pose where the body comes parallel to the floor with the weight of the body bearing in the toes and palms. The elbows are positioned at a right angle.
 

How do I do chaturanga

It’s not uncommon to see yogis breezing through chaturanga, swiftly swooping up to upward-facing dog without really using the muscle strength neccessary to make the correct transition. Poor alignment of the pose can result in serious joint tension and won’t allow you to build up the strength needed to take your practice to the next level.
What are some benefits to chaturanga?
 
The pose is going to help you develop your shoulder, wrist and leg muscles and gain core stability. It’s an amazing preparatory pose for arm balances and inversions because the power in the shoulders and core stability is a big must for both. The positioning of the arms in Chaturanga is replicated in more advanced arm balances including grasshopper pose. Your arms will start to tone and your whole body will naturally tighten as a result of regular practice of this pose. You’ll start to build what my teachers liked to call ‘Chaturanga arms’. 
Tips & Tricks
If you’re committed to improving your practice and gaining all the physical benefits of yoga, here are some pointers which could help make chaturanga less challenging: 
 
1. Set up in a strong plank position 
Come onto your hands and knees with your feet and knees hip width apart. Press your hands firmly into the mat spreading your fingers wide. Straightening your arms stack your shoulders directly above your wrists ensuring they’re shoulder width apart. Step the feet back and curl the toes under bearing your weight onto the toes and the palms. You should now be in your plank pose. To perfect the plank, slightly dome the top of the back, activate the thighs and suck in the lower belly. Avoid drooping the belly or sinking the hips. Try to imagine a solid log (your legs and torso) propped up by two twigs (your arms). 
 
2. Propel yourself forward
Once you’re steady in your plank, shoot yourself forward as though you were one lean line of energy. Feel the quadriceps working as you push the heels back. Keep the gaze to the top of your mat ensuring the neck and the shoulders are aligned throughout. Slightly tuck the chin under to create even more space in the back of the neck. Hanging the head will create tension in the neck. 
 
3. Hug to the midline of your body
Begin to hug your biceps and triceps tight to your ribcage squeezing your shoulder blades together. Remember to keep the shoulder girdle open by drawing the shoulders down the back. If the shoulders point forward towards the floor, you might injure your shoulders. Engage the muscles in your core and stabilise through the hips to keep them level.
 
4. Exhale to lower down
Slowly exhale to lower down bringing the shoulder in line with the crease of the elbow. This whole time, think about drawing your navel towards your spine until your arms are at that 90 degree angle to the floor. The exhale breath will help you strengthen core muscles. Then simply inhale and make the transition to the next pose. 
Options for Beginners 
Still not sure you’ve got your chaturanga down? Here are some fantastic options to help you ease into the practice! Here is a definitive list of options – choose which area needs the most work and take that option!.
Lower back 
From a solid plank position, place the knees onto the ground so that they’re hip width apart and curl the toes under. Spiralling the elbows forward, bend the elbows keeping the chest open while rolling the shoulders down the back. Lower down hovering over the floor until the arms are at a 90 degree angle to the floor. From here, come down to your chest and chin and then take an inhale to slowly move to cobra or upward-facing dog.
Knees
Begin by lying on your belly and bring your hands by your lower ribs. Activate your upper back, lift your shoulders and hug your elbows in. Tuck your toes under and engage your quads. Slowly lift your thighs off the floor which will help strengthen your knees. Lastly, engage your core and you are in the correct alignment for chaturanga. 
 
Wrists 
Spend some time before your practice to warm up the wrists with Anjali mudra (prayer pose). Press the heels of the hands together at the sternum, fingers pointing upwards, for around one or two minutes. Opt for the beginners variation of chaturanga with your hands a little in front of your shoulders to avoid too much extension of the wrists.
 
Shoulders 
Find yourself in a nice solid plank which you can choose to hold for at least 5 to ten breaths to help build shoulder strength. You can start to spiral the elbows forward, engaging the core. Then exhale to lower down completely to the floor keeping the integrity of the posture, pushing the heels back and pressing down with your hands. Practice this until you can lift your thighs off the floor to come to the full pose. 
 
Hips 
Place a yoga block under your pelvis and chest to support your body as you work on the key alignment points. Keep the hips from drooping by activating your abdominal muscles to help draw them up.  
 
Options for Advanced/Prenatal students
If you’re already a chaturanga master, why not take your practice higher with this challenging option?
Advanced 
Once you’ve mastered chaturanga from plank, you can try jumping back from Uttanasana B (standing half forward bend). From Uttanasana B press the hands especially the knuckles firmly down into the mat. Pull your chest slightly forward rolling the shoulders back into the shoulder girdle. Lift your navel, tuck your tail bone under and bend the knees deeply to float the legs up and back to chaturanga.
 
Prenatal 
Place your knees onto the floor so that they’re hip width apart. Lower down and spiral the elbows forward, rolling the shoulders down the back as you bring your torso down towards the ground. Rather than lowering down completely to your chin and chest, you can complete a few well aligned chaturanga push ups as the belly must stay off the ground to avoid any pressure on the baby. Avoid jumping into chaturanga and don’t suck in the belly either.
 
 
Elena’s Key Tips on Practising Chaturanga
I often ask my students to slow down their chaturanga and suggest that they practice the pose away from the context of sun salutations. I highly recommend to practice the modifications most suited to you at this point of your journey and take the time to build the real strength and understanding of the pose. 
 
Don’t let the complexities of the pose dampen your spirit and try not to get disheartened if you’re not at the full pose just yet. When I want to practice a new pose, I sometimes find it helpful to video my practice or look at a mirror from side on to check my positioning and understand how that positioning feels. That way, when I have no mirror or video, I’m aware of how it should feel to be with the correct or incorrect alignment. Without that feedback it’s hard to tell. 
 
Above all, and with any pose, is that it’s important to remember that nobody is going to judge you for having perfected the pose or not and you’re not going to be a better person for nailing the advanced version of a chaturanga. Learn to laugh at your mistakes and falls and recognise that it’s all practice and a part of your own self-discovery. 
Catch Elena’s Georgiou’s expert stylings at MoreYoga Camden (Iyengar & Ashtanga).