Here is another humble offering on safe yoga, and this time we talk shoulders. Actually, it seems that shoulder injuries are one of three most common yoga injuries. And you can probably guess which pose causes almost all of these injuries: Chaturanga Dandasana. But to be fair, it is not really the pose, but not doing the pose properly and safely.
Chaturanga Dandasana is a very powerful pose that requires some core and upper body strength to begin with. What is equally important is strength in the lower body, especially the legs and feet. And we’ll get to the exact pointers in a moment.
If you are just starting yoga, please, please, pretty please go to a beginner’s yoga class. This becomes even more important when you want to practice Vinyasa or Ashtanga. It is in these classes where you will encounter Chaturanga with great frequency, sometimes even over 30 times in a class. Really understanding the pose, how to get into to it and where the point of attentions lie, is therefore super important.
Coming into Chaturanga Dandasana
So coming into Chaturanga starts in plank pose. From here, we remember the right position of the hands (check out the article on wrist protection if you have no idea what this means), heels are reaching away from the body, belly is in and up. The shoulders are only slightly positioned in front of the wrists. The chest is open.
You want to feel strong in your whole body, and imagine the length of your body as a rod or a plank, rigid and strong and straight. So, no sagging bellies and no buttocks in the air. Keeping all of this strength you want to lower your body in a very controlled way. This takes strength. If you don’t have it, don’t try and wing it, because this is how you can hurt yourself. Instead, lower your knees to the floor and do a baby Chaturanga, building your strength with time.
As you come down, make sure that you keep the elbows close to your body, in one parallel line with your hands or to be more precise, your middle fingers. So no elbows sticking out! You lower yourself until your shoulders are at the same height as your elbows. That is the pose.
And then you transition to upward dog, cobra or back to plank or whatever the sequence is you are doing.
- When you are working on building your strength up, please feel very free to modify to baby Chaturanga, which is after plank, or in plank, placing your knees on the floor. So you can do one or a couple full Chaturanga’s and then continue in this modified version.
- Take your time to do it properly. Don’t feel rushed to stay in the rhythm of the class if it diminishes your integrity of the pose. Sometimes Vinyasa classes can be quite fast, especially for beginners or people with injuries.
- Also, feel free to pass on doing the Vinyasa (going through Chtauranga, up dog and down dog, if you already have an injury and it feels like it’s too much and just come into child’s pose, or do a cat/cow.
- Jumping back in Chaturanga may look super cool, but it is a very big hit on your shoulder girdle. I personally don’t see the reason for doing it. And there is quite some debate about it in our yoga community. I would say, if you really want to do it, make sure that you master Chaturanga perfectly and know you have the strength to do it before you attempt to try.
- And ask your teacher for alignment cues! Sometimes our body awareness has not yet matured enough to know if our shoulders are just slightly in front of the wrists or way too much. So ask your teacher to have a look at you and adjust where needed.
- A lot of injuries happen gradually, over time, doing something the wrong way, over and over. So stay alert and aware, and don’t become sloppy in your alignment, as you get tired.
The Perfect Chaturanga
My dear friend, colleague at Ekhart yoga and amazing yoga teacher Jennilee Toner is very passionate abut safe yoga and a great anatomy expert & nerd. She wrote the book, “The Perfect Chaturanga: A Comprehensive Guide of the Human Body Through the Practice of Vinyasa Yoga” for those of you who are interested in reading more about Chaturanga and yoga in general. Check her out! . Jennilee also has this great article on jumping back into Chaturanga/low plank pose.
Text: Marlene Smits
Image: Renegade Guru. He is wearing a Moksha Tee in Marsala Spice and a Bodhi Shorts in Urban Black from Renegade Guru.