One of the most common misalignments in the yoga pose Chatturanga Dandasana is a lack of engagement of the serratus anterior muscle. What on earth does that mean, right? Let’s break it down:

The serratus anterior is a muscle that is found right below your armpit, and it attaches both to your ribs (the attachments look like a serrated blade, hence the name) and also to the medial or inside edge of the scapula, or shoulderblade. So the serratus is responsible for keeping that inside edge of the scapula flat against your back as you bend your elbows in Chatturanga. When the serratus is weak, it can’t hold the scapula down, and the result is that ‘winged scapula’ that we see so often as students flow through their vinyasa (full disclosure: I used to be a winger!).

Below is a video clip of the Yoga Tune Up® pose Mega Plank, which is a great way to learn how to find and engage that serratus anterior, so that when you go to do your Chatturanga in class, you’ll keep your scapula right where they should be. As you come into Mega Plank, press your forearms into the floor so the scapula move apart, and then pull backwards with your hands and you’ll feel those serrated fingers of the serratus grip your ribs!

The pose is also part of the Yoga Tune Up® 10 Minute Quick Fix for Lower Back video available here.

Read about making your posture perfect.

Watch our video for lower back pain relief.

Learn about our Therapy Balls Program for your lower back.

Sarah Court

Sarah Court is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, Yoga Tune Up® Teacher Trainer, and the creator of Quantum Leap. She teaches public workshops, anatomy for yoga teacher trainings, and trains Yoga Tune Up® teachers worldwide. She developed and teaches her Quantum Leap continuing education program to make sophisticated movement science easy for movement teachers to understand and apply to their teaching. Sarah received her doctorate in Physical Therapy from Mount St. Mary’s University. She brings significant clinical experience to her teaching, attracting clients and students with a desire to move intelligently, regain mobility, or manage chronic conditions. Sarah is an award-winning graduate of Princeton University, and edited the Yoga Tune Up® blog for 5 years. She has been featured on exercise.com and The New York Times. Find her Yoga Tune Up® schedule here or go to her full website.

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Mandy McCullough

Chaturanga Dandasana…. YIKES! 6 years of yoga practice and I still haven not perfected it. Going to work on that mega plank and test my progress.

Liz Lor

Chattaranga is one of the first poses I was interested in learning the ins and outs of. I knew I wasn’t doing it right and I enlisted a few different teachers over the evolution of my practice. In the beginning it helped to drop the knees to build strength in my arms. After that I switched to lowering my entire body to the floor before pulling into up dog. Now I learned not to shift forward but rather to concentrate on pushing through my heels in my plank and staying in that flat back plank and then lowering down without… Read more »

Barbie Levasseur

Joanna Bond: great advice for teaching chattarunga in your comment! It took me a long time to figure out the shoulder/elbow/wrist alignment in my own practice, so I’m always on the lookout for way to fast-track my students. I’m definitely going to use the exercise at the wall you suggested when I teach.

Yasmen Mehta

Thanks, I gave Mega plank to some of my strong athletes in class. Strong or so they thought, till they had to engage the Serratus Anterior. That was a wake up call. It also helped them do their presses off the floor as it gave them much more stability and leverage

Jennifer

This pose is also an effective way to get students to improve their downward dog – another pose that I so often see done incorrectly! What I like about mega plank is that getting students into this pose is fairly straightforward but gives students the ability to immediately feel how to engage their serratus anterior that then they can call upon when asked for it during other poses.

Celine

This is a perfect exercise to strengthen the often-forgotten serratus anterior. This has really helped me to protect my shoulders during chaturanga.

Joanna Bond

There’s a great way to figure out shoulder alignment in Chaturanga, too. Have students stand up, and flex their shoulders and wrists, so their arms are sticking straight out in front of them. Have them imagine that there’s a floor vertically in front of them. Now ask them what pose they’re in – they should get that it’s plank, just with a different orientation. Now ask them to do with their arms what they would if they were coming into Chaturanga. Nine times out of ten they’ll keep their shoulders exactly where they are, and deeply flex their elbows until… Read more »

Emilie Smith

Learning how to find and activate the serratus anterior muscle in Mega Plank pose in an excellent way for students to better understand what should be happening in Chatturanga. I find Chatturanga to be one of the most challenging poses to teach to new students and to correct in experienced students. There are so many pieces so this pose and Mega Plank is an excellent start point.

Kate Kuss

Do you think the winged action can also happen when students dip down too low? I will definitely be on the look out for the winged look and then teach the Mega Plank. Keeping the scapula flat on the back is important to remember. Thank you!

AA

Chatarunga is a pose I continue to struggle with. After years of doing it incorrectly, and subjecting my lower back to possible injury, I am finally learning the correct way to struggle. Your emphasis on the serratus anterior is extremly helpful- I will be practicing my up and down movement with elbows tucked in as I watch tv the next few days to see if it improves. Thank you!

AA

I’m working on becoming a non’winger! Chatarunga is a pose I

Lisa

Strengthening the core is something I have been working on all year and will now be adding the Mega Plank to my home practice along with telling myself that as I start to shake I know I am on to something good and to keep breathing through it.

jackie

Mega plank is a great way to warm up for chatturanga! I will try it!

Kat Burke

I was such a winger! It took me a solid YEAR to get this right. I don’t think I even realized I was doing it incorrectly until one class when it just felt completely different and it hit me, OH this is how you are supposed to Chatturanga! I’d had instructors tell me to keep my elbows in, but as a newbie I didn’t fully understand what I was supposed to do. I also did not yet have the muscle strength for a proper Chatturanga Dandasana. It is such a fundamental pose and it is so often glossed over by… Read more »

Millie

A new student I was working with last week had such an exaggerated ‘winging’ I focused in on her to determine what the hecfk she was doing. She not only was retracting scapulae bones, but was dropping her head into deep neck flextion like she was going to burrow a tunnel into the floor making some kind of giant snake forward movement… never seen that before. She toldm e her teacher over the summer had taught her to chattarunga like that! Hard to say if it was a misinterpretation… hopefully. Taking the focus from ‘pulling, rolling down or depressing’ shoulders… Read more »

Gari Kylberg

In my Vinyasa classes we do chaturanga so often yet I’m not always comfortable with it… and now I know why. This version of plank is a great way to get acquainted with my serratus anterior and balance my pose out at last.

Dawn Adams

I love this. This version of plank is really wonderful, because it’s accessible to so many people who cannot take pressure on the wrist joints, and it allows them to really focus on the healthy position of the back and the shoulders by taking the wrists out of the equation, and by allowing the shins to rest on the floor. So much more intensity in the core muscles, and it feels like it’s more strengthening in the areas I want working to prepare me and my students for Chaturanga.

alan

We will ‘wing’ out the scapula when the Serratus anterior is weak or when we’ve exhausted the SA and other muscles with repetitions of a given pose (a common problem in vinyasa classes), and the scapula will wing naturally when placed in full protraction with the arm and shoulder thrust forward. When the shoulder and arm move forward to exert maximum force the scapula protracts (moving forward across the ribs), the glenoid fossa (that part of scapula that meets the humerus) will face anteriorly and the bottom tip (inferior angle) of the scapula must wing outward to some amount to… Read more »

Jessica Lesley

Chatturanga is one of my favorite poses! I love to practice and teach it, but I cringe at the sight of people dumping weight into their shoulders (dipping way past the elbows), chin an inch off the mat, low back dipping, Aghh! Using Mega Plank in my classes as a prep for chatturanga dandasana has been a game changer. From there it can even be used as a handstand prep. I have had students get frustrated at finding out how difficult a correct chatturanga can be. After I explain the possible damage they are causing by winging the scapula and… Read more »

Peggy

Going through YTUTT now and can appreciate your insight on the serratus, especially in relation to Chattarunga. Thanks.

Tom

I learned about the Serratus Anterior and how this makes such a impact on doing Chatturanga Danasana – small “shifts” make huge differences.

Nicole Pamukov

I recently was informed by my pilates instructor that I have “Winger” tendencies. Despite the fact that I have a strong core and shoulders, multiple repititions of Chatturanga would still fatigue me. Concentrating on actively engaging my SA has improved not only my stamina in this pose, but my ability to maintain stamina throughout the entire class, especially when there are multiple vinyayas!

Alex

I recently observed a class that went through a numerous vinyasas. As the class went on and the students exhausted their efforts I was surprised to see a large amount of Chatturanga wingers after a a large shoulder sequence. I tried the pose after the class and noticed that I too was engaging less of my core and trying to protract my scapula with the aid of my shoulders. It was only a matter of time that my wings came out too. Once I engaged my SA and core I quickly realized how easy and effortless the pose becomes.

Susan McGurn

I am so glad to have learned this in my YTU training. In addition to teaching yoga, I have been a pilates instructor for years.
I concentrated so much on the core that I forgot about all the other muscles involved no less the Serratus Anterior!
I now, can clearly recognize how to fix a student who is winging it, but I am still having difficulty communicating and getting them to feel the engagement of the SA. This inspires me to find more ways to communicate this and do a few more Chatturangas in my classes.

Via Page

I love practicing and teaching Chatturanga the Yoga Tune Up® way. Before Chatturanga and its form was a mystery but now I can experience and help my students experience engagement of the serratus anterior. What a difference that makes!

Kyoko Jasper

Yoga Tune Up® Mega Plank is not really an enjoyable pose. But once you get a hang of it and practice it over and over, you will be sure to feel the difference in your Chatturanga Dandasana practice!

Beth Peak

It’s one of those things where different teachers tell you different things! I am so glad that I did the yoga tuna up weekend, and read this blog, as I finally know how to do my chatturangas properly! I spent so long focusing on pulling my shoulder blades together, and in doing so was retracting my shoulders and winging out my shoulder blade. Thanks for sharing your comment and the video!

Freda

Knowing about the muscles involved in this pose makes it so much more interesting to teach my students to do the pose correctly.
What a difference! Can’t believe I was doing my Chatturanga the wrong way for so long before YogaTuneup.

Megan

I too am very eager to keep better tabs on my chatturanga. Thanks to Mega Plank, I’m on my way!

Elizabeth E

I still struggle with alignment in this pose, so this is very helpful information. Don’t want to be a winger. And I also appreciate the tip from Loong to check out the alignment in the mirror – thanks, Loong!

rcm

I look forward to trying this out.

Loong

One great tip I received about plank and chaturanga is to look at yourself in the mirror. My alignment had been off and my back wasn’t flat and straight. I was able to make adjustments to get into proper alignment and then feel how different the muscles had to work.

Allison

Looks like a great exercise.

Jaime S

This is a great exercise for a high problem area!

Cathy

I know I can use help with my chattarunga and I think this would be good for my back, so I”ll work on it with the super plank move! thank you.

Elizabeth S.

New Mantra Alert: “When you start to shake, you know you’re onto something good!” Waking up my core fibers is a perfect intention for class tonight.

I love it…. and totally dig on the information about the “serratus anterior.” (I’ve never thought about how important this muscle is, and certainly will from now on).

subir

the exercise, when done in tandem with some of the core strengtheners discussed elsewhere, suggests a great way to correct the exaggerated lordosis or “sway-back” one sees in chatturanga, especially as class progresses and the vinyasas pile up. It’s a good reminder that the pectoral girdle never works in isolation in arm-balance poses but needs to be supported by strong obliques in order to protect the shoulders and even low back.

Amber

I could see why this is also on the Low Back Quick Fix video…I once got a massage and when asked my trouble areas I said lower back. I was wondering what the weird armpit massage was all about, makes sense now.

Christine

Strengthening the serratus like this also really helps protect the low back when coming into cobra or up dog. I can feel my spine get cinched up so that by the time I start the transition to down dog, my abs are driving the process and the low back is completely depressurized.

bo

Another pose that mega plank helps, I will have to add that to my context grid!

Tamara Z

Eager to try this “mega plank!” I’ve been having some right shoulder pain that I am attributing to my Chaturangas, so maybe this will help me align them properly. I would try it now, but just finished dinner. Not much in the mood to be working my core right now!

Zvia

Mega plank looks like a great exercise to engage and stergthen the serratus anteriors. I know this will help me to contract my serratus anteriors during Chaturanga Dandasana.

Martin

Maura showed us this pose today in our Yoga tune up anatomy training and explained how important strong serratus anteriors are and how to engage and train them. New goal in life coming into crow like Maura using these serratus muscles properly 🙂

Steve

So quick, but it seems amazingly effective.

Lauren Iden

I’ve never noticed whether or not I’m a “winger” but will be more aware of it now. I also love Mega Plank; it makes me shaky every time, so I know I’m on to something good, as said in the video.

Ko

We just learned about Chataranga Dandasana and how the shoulders should not retract. It was interesting to note that the alignment of the hip should be in a posterior tilt to help keep the abdonimals engaged while keeping the vertebrae in neutral position.

Kelli

Practicing mega plank is also a great reminder on how to retract the shoulder blades in towards one another for chatturanga prep.

Shilpa

Yes we did talk about the winged scapula in class today! I am going to pay attention to how my serratus anterior is working during this pose.

Joe Matson

another good strengthening pose for my lower back!

Sharon

We just talked about this today–I’m going to keep an eye out for it from now on.