The Yoga Tune Up® solutions for strengthening shoulder external rotation are brilliant, self-contained solutions. I say self-contained since they don’t need any equipment.
The first pose, one of my all-time favorite Yoga Tune Up® poses is Pin the Arms on the Yogi. It is brilliant in its simplicity and its effectiveness! To get into the pose, you begin by externally rotating the arms and adducting them. You want to make sure that you do not protract the shoulder blades or puff out the chest. To solidify the position of the shoulder blades both the rhomboids and the serratus anterior muscles will be active, which is perfect since some of the issues that come out of improper chaturanga come from not knowing how to stabilize and keep the shoulders protracted. Also, this posture activates and strengthens the external rotators infraspinatus and terres major. It will also require the activation of the lower trapezius muscles. Posturally, the relative strength of these muscles is integral to proper alignment, especially if the shoulders are forced to repeatedly strengthen internal rotation.
The second pose is Open Sesame. This one is often practiced on the floor for best results but, in a pinch, can also be done against a wall. This posture primarily targets the lengthening of the pec muscles, the anterior portion of the deltoid. To Open Sesame, the arm is abducted to a right angle to the body and pressed into the floor, palm down. Keeping the arm there, you then roll onto your side, let’s say the left side for this example, and step your right foot back and over the left leg bringing the sole of the foot to the ground. The right foot may also come flat on the ground, as well. The left arm then falls back as if it was going to land on the right arm, and this passively stretches the left pectoralis muscles. This posture will help to bring length back into the chest muscles and front shoulders if tightness and range of motion become constricted.
Ultimately, chaturanga is a great movement, but it is no more sacred then any other movement. It is neither good nor bad in and of itself, but for every decision we make in our practice we must understand the consequences. If a posture is strengthening, where is it strengthening? Is this strength going to improve my posture? If not, are there other counter poses I should include in my practice? Do I need more of this strength? If so, do I also need more antagonistic strength to maintain proper shoulder alignment? I do believe that we can find balance and have a positive relationship with chaturanga dandasana, but I believe that that relationship is more complicated then just being able to do it with proper alignment and intention.
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Thank you for your insight about shoulder health. It’s so important as a person who works in an office typing all day.
Shoulder stability is so important, I am always looking for ways to help my students with this and I can’t wait to integrate the Pin the Arm on the Yogi into my classes! I also like to work on this concept of awareness of where the shoulders are on the back by using locust, cobra, and then finding it in plank with knees down then full plank, before I ever offer up a chaturanga in class. I also love the counter pose of the open sesame.
Open Sesame is one of my favourites! You can really feel the lengthening of the pecs here. When I was practicing Asthanga a couple years ago, I found these muscles to be extremely tight, and having worked more towards releasing them as well as strengthening their antagonists would have really helped to create more balance. I’ll definitely be incorporating more awareness in how I do chaturanga and taking the right steps towards maintaining balance and stability in the shoulders in the pose AND in ensuring to balance it out with strengthening what else needs the attention.
I’m finding the YTU perspective to be really refreshing. I’ve long wondered whether all the chaturangas were beneficial. Certainly I never thought they were sufficient for a balanced movement practice. I am excited to spice things up with these new movements!
As a Thai masseuse, yoga teacher and ACRO yoga teacher I engage in some repetitive motions. Yoga Tune Up inspires me to build a practice of counter poses and a balance between strengthening, lengthening and getting my muscles rung out of tension. The Yoga therapy balls are the “rubber drug” of my practice.
I also really appreciate the no equipment needed approach to Yoga Tune Up. It really enables me to practice any time anywhere!!
I love pin the arms on the yogi. Also, love Open Sesame – although, 90 degrees is a bit too much for me, I usually have the arm at 180.
It will be interesting to see how my relationship with chaturanga evolves, right now we are on a break.
Thanks Todd. I’m starting to think that the real problem with Chaturanga is the way it’s taught. I’ve always done the low plank portion of Chaturanga with my chest about an inch from the ground before moving to the Upward Dog portion of it. Even if someone is aware of all the major muscles contributing to Chaturanga, if hand and shoulder positioning and/or height of the low plank portion of it are off, then it’s a great way to screw up one’s shoulders. I just learned Pin the Arms on the Yogi, and I’m excited to keep working on it and then see how it translates to doing Chaturanga during class.
After having done chaturunga many times and probably many of them not in ideal alignment, I have moved away from including it much in my own practice. I appreciate the mention of specific YTU exercises to counter the pitfall of chaturunga.
I love this pose because it is so complex, but it is a minefield to teach! so many chances for ‘cheating’ to force the pose. I have used other movement to counter act the pose, but open sesame makes perfect sense!(light bulb moment) I have used it with both my corporate clients that are forward folding and the hockey players I have worked with over the years. Many times having to resort to a modification at the wall for many clients. Thanks! cheers
Thanks for sharing Todd. I totally agree with you that it’s important to ask ‘why’ when we find ourselves repeating so many of the same yoga poses so that we can continue to decrease the amount of ‘blind spots’ that we might be developing from this. I’ve realized how important it is to strengthen my rotator cuff muscles and to rely less on simply tricep strength in Chaturanga.
Great Blog Todd
I see many students still doing the old Anusara melt the heart in Chaturanga, I have been using both Pin the shoulders and open sesame in my teaching.
Completely agree that there are so many more factors in being in chuturunga than proper alignment and intention. Holding a tubular core as well as the deppression and protraction and external rotation of the shoulders is a challenging one, but taking on pin the yogi and open sesame is great for me to start with 🙂
Great blog. I teach a class of seniors doing chair or chair supported yoga. It is so great to see supporting poses for the joints and to bring intelligence to the body rather than just the end pose itself ie chaturanga. My gang have no interest in the chataranga and what they want is to feel better in their bodies today – variations of open sesame and pin the arms on the yogi are just such a ticket. thanks.
I’m happy to have some new tools for teaching a safe chatturanga! True, this pose may not be more sacred than any other but it is surely used disproportionally to most others, especially in the vinyasa classes so popular in my city. I see shoulder and elbow blow-outs in yogis far too often. My biggest take away from this blog piece is the question about antagonistic strength in chatturanga. I often cue to move slowly and “reluctantly” into chatturanga as if pushing through mud, rather than dropping straight into it, to engage this antagonistic involvement to keep the joints safe.
Thank you for this. After years of finally feeling “strong” , I have developed a left shoulder “drop” which is causing impedement of external rotation and my left external rotators especially the teres minor, serratus, and infraspinatus are LITERALLY NUMB! My whole left torso has adapted to become crooked. I maintain impeccable alignment in chaturanga (or at least I thought I did) but the difficulty and assymetry I feel in pin the arms on the yogi (esp left sided) and 1/4 urvadanurasana at the wall just magnifies where I really need to be working… doing these every morning instead of push ups!!!!
Thank you for clearing the air around chaturanga. Your work has really helped me see through a lot of the dogma that surrounds some of the most common poses. I truly love how you are leveling the playing field of movement!
I often want to give other progressions for chaturanga other than dropping the knees. Thanks for the read and new ideas to bring to my students!
Great points to counter chaturanga’s action.
This shouldn’t just be an IF you’re tight, essential for all vinyasa practioners especially. The pecs and ant delts tend to have adaptively shortened for many, chaturanga lovers or not. If you’re doing hundreds of chaturanga a week the opposing muscles need to be cross trained or you’re asking for trouble now or in time to come. Future suffering can be avoided.
It has been something of a revelation for me to begin asking “why” do I practice or teach a certain pose? I’ve had a big dialogue in my head throughout training about Chaturanga. It doesn’t feel good when I do it. I feel anxiety about the pose before practice. I see less than 25% of people in my classes perform the pose correctly.
I injured my neck this summer, likely due in large part to poor posture and practicing with blind spots that could hide a bus.
As a student of my own body, I have ceased fighting the reality that I live in, my physical body, and I accept where I am at. I’ve let ego drive my practice and my relentless desire to have a good Chaturanga. I’ve told myself that as a teacher I need to be able to do the pose with poise.
It’s refreshing to enter a community that asks “why” without giving creedence to dogma.
Thank you Todd for those simple stretches. My shoulders thank you.. I have been experiencing tightness in my pectorals and know that my chaturanga has caused shoulder discomfort.Pin the arms on the Yogi is my new favorite party game while open sesame I’ll save for movie watching . Many Thanks.
I am inspired to teach a pre chaturanga shoulder class that will contain pin the arms on the yogi, open sesame, mega plank with active serratus at the wall to educate serratus engagement, boomerang because it would feel really good after mega plank, yogi at the trough to bring awareness to the activation drawing elbows against the ribs. There is so much focus on warming the shoulder and I do like to bring awareness to activating legs and core powerfully to balance all the work in the upper body. I find that students like to go to sleep from the waist down so that it looks either a two year old is sitting on their lower back or just a really long down dog. Educating the role of the tubular core also increases full body participation in this challenging pose. Thank Todd for bringing my attention to how YTU can inform my flow class once again!
Very well put— chaturanga is no more sacred than any other movement. We get caught up in what is “classical” and has been passed down, etc without thinking of what those poses or movements are doing to our bodies. Anyone who has studied or practiced YTU knows the importance of this reflection. I plan on forcing more creativity into my classes by de-chaturanga-ing and de-down-dogging my sequencing and adding in more antagonistic strengtheners.
Todd, thank you so much for this. My right shoulder has been funky since October now and I know that doing many Chaturanga’s without paying attention to external rotation has exacerbated the problem. I have been pulling back my Chaturangas since and now it is especially great to have a few drills to remind my muscles what to do outside of the studio or just in the middle of my day for a “shoulder quickie”. Yay!
I have become increasingly diligent with teaching good alignment chaturanga, since i teach mostly flow and power classes and the transition from plank to chaturanga (well the entire transition from DD to plank/chat/updog/DD) is one of the most abused/misunderstood sequences that we do again and again in vinyasa style classes. Todd’s writing writing adds another element of understanding for me personally and, as a result, i’ll be able to add another layer/tool to teaching it.
The biggest take away for me since being introduced to YTU has been how essential it is to be honest about how what you are doing (yoga or otherwise) may be supporting the growth of imbalances in your body. It’s not what you do but HOW you do. I spent many an hour perfecting “alignment” but on the outside but was compensating in a lot of the wrong ways on the inside. Now I am using YTU poses like pin the arms on the yogi, mega plank and dolphin supinate to help balance and heal a shoulder injury whose cause had evaded me for over two years.
Chaturanga is not a beginner pose at all, so many things need to be strengthened and stabilized before Chaturanga could be held safely.
The two poses offered by Todd are excellent. I admit that I do a lot of these in class and I enjoy them as both a stabilizing poses and as a transition pose in a vinyasa flow class.
My body is weaker on the left side and tighter on the right side. Doing ‘pin the arm on the yogi’ will help build more balance and integrity in the pose.
I am with you on this one Michele B. Chaturanga, especially in a Vinyasa heavy class can bring up all sorts of shoulder situations. I am excited to incorporate all these ideas into class to be able to teach proper alignment but then to build it towards a maha pose like chaturanga…just repeating a pose like pin the arms in every class, maybe even a few times, and open sesame while already on the belly! People need this work, there isn’t an American today who doesn’t spend extensive amounts of time in internal rotation of the shoulders, its my duty now to help what I see in and out of the room and bring this work into my classes! Thanks for the info!
I am appreciative of this article.. i am currently in YTU training and desire to continue to do chaturanga and was a bit leary after some of the classroom discussions. I am eager to use the suggestions in your article to prevent injury and correct my form when I practice.
In YTU class this week we’ve spent a lot of time learning proper aligned of the shoulder. Pin the Arms on the Yogi is a great way to learn proper alignment, and which muscles should (and shouldn’t) engage. I do a lot of Vinyasa yoga so approaching Chatarunga properly is key.
It was great in Yoga Tune-Up Anatomy learning about the importance of doing a proper chataranga. Keeping shoulders in the proper position is key to maintaining long term health of the joints.
I love the subtle yet profound prep poses that YTU offers to first bring the kinesthetic awareness to the area potentially vulnerable for injury within the asana. Locating, sensing and being able to encourage the external rotators of the shoulder is so beneficial to our culture which spends so much time on the computers and cell phones. Thanks Todd!
With Pin the Arms of a Yogi I have no excuse anymore to have a weak left shoulder. I wish I knew these simple and yet powerful exercises prior to injuring my left rotator cuff. And yes, chaturangas have greatly contributed to that injury. Going too close to the floor compromised my pectoralis major, teres major, and a supraspinatus that fires like crazy to help in all this chaos.
Yoga Tune Up exercises are truly empowering as they give you the knowledge to help yourself and others with ‘self contained solutions’ as Todd explains.
Early in my practice, when I thought getting low to the ground in Chaturanga was equally as awesome as getting super low in the limbo, I would complain of neck pains. Having a desk/computer job only gave me an ‘out’ to not blame my yoga practice – please don’t take my practice away!!! Over the last couple of years, after being introduced to the work of Yoga Tune Up, I have come to realize – duh – it was my chaturangas! I was elevating and retracting my scapula which in turn was contracting my upper traps and levator scapula and bringing tension into my neck every single yoga class. Knowledge is power, and my neck is now thanking my new chaturanga.
This pose sums up YTU all in one: it is not what it appears to be.
This pose needs to be felt from the inside out. Try it for yourself, you will be amazed how hard you will be working.
A poor shoulder alignment in chaturanga creates strain on the neck and rotator cuff muscles inside the shoulder. This kind of misalighnment causes lack of engagement of serratus anterior muscle. In such a situation the serratus anterior muscle can not hold the scapula down and the medial border of the scapula sticks out from the back causing winged scapula which can ultimately cause loss of serratus anterior muscle and trapezius muscle function.In my opinion in chaturanga dandasana one has to identify a good alignment .I always make sure that my elbows are tucked beside the body and I do not come down any further than the body making a straight line. I do it by keeping the space between the shoulder blades broad,pressing the elbow towards my ribs and also maintaining a lift at top of sternum. I love it because it’s a great core strengtening posture.
I always have trouble with chaturanga whether it’s with my shoulders falling below my elbows, or the hyperextension in my right arm, so I’m hyper-aware that I need to keep tweaking my form. Thanks for this good advice.
I have very flexible shoulder joints and always know that the. Second I start feeling any sort of pain or discomfort in my shoulders during class, it is because I am not in proper alignment. I too was a bit confused on the Open Sesame exercise, but the Pin the Arm on the Yogi was great…..I will definitely be doing that one more often to strengthen that area so I give in less to my flexibility.
Yes, I completely agree here. Since I mostly do Vinyasa, I am definitely doing a lot of Chaturanga dandasana. I love using it in a flow sequence, but I honestly never thought much about it or what the benefits were other than that my arms felt like they were toning. One day a teacher told me that my shoulders weren’t in proper alignment and that I could injure myself that way. So, now I’ve becoming obsessed with figuring it out and making sure I’m in the popper alignment. The “Pin the arms on the yogi” is a nice exercise. I’m a little confused about the shoulder pronation…I guess I thought the shoulders would be retracted?
This blog post really made me think. I particularly like the last sentence: “I do believe that we can find balance and have a positive relationship with chaturanga dandasana, but I believe that that relationship is more complicated then just being able to do it with proper alignment and intention.” I have for some time now been a big advocate of doing chaturanga in proper form, and doing cobra rather than up dog until a solid understanding of alignment is created. I felt this way because I saw SO many unnecessary repetitive stress injuries… People totally blowing out their rotator cuffs do to fast mindless chaturangas over and over again all in the name of yogic practices to expand consciousness and health. I called BullSh*t and swore I would fight for good alignment in the chaturanga dandasana to cobra/updog world. But now I tend to agree with Todd. Even if you do it in impeccable alignment is it really necessary to do SO many chaturangas over and over again in every yoga class? Probably not… lets get a little bit more creative in yoga class shall we? Maybe a little more lateral flexion please? And lets think about what we are doing and WHY we are doing it with discernment rather than repeating what we saw on TV, in a book, or on a neighbor’s mat.
Thanks for this excellent article! It never ceases to amaze me how students become so attached to certain poses regardless of their ability to perform them safely. Chatturanga is definitely one of those poses! Since taking the YTU Level 1 training I am happy to have the tools to help students to build strength in these often neglected areas. I particularly love Pin the Arms on the Yogi and Open Sesame because they are poses that help to strengthen without bearing the weight of the body – great especially for newer students who may have a harder time with some of the other great serratus strengthening YTU poses such as Dolphin Supinate and Megaplank. :)))
Is the “pin the arms on the Yogi” a dynamic movement where you keep the shoulders externally rotated and bring them up and down, respectively abducting and adducting? or is it a adduct and hold? – like Tadasana?
The first pose, “PIn the arms on the Yogi” was actually a very challenging pose in the sense of holding my arms adducted and keeping my shoulders externally rotated. I definitely felt a sense of opening in my chest but could totally feel the burning sensation (a good one) but it definitely burned. I enjoyed it!
The second pose, “Open Sesame” was a great core strengthening exercise. It worked my shoulders too.
I feel like if I continue strenthening my shoulders and core, it will definitely allow me to better my chaturanga movement.
Thank you so much!
I think there’s definitely something to be said about balance and Chatarunga. When I think about it logically, both sides of your body, not just your shoulder muscles, but your hips and legs, should be equal in strength to make the pose seamless. But its unlikely that anyone has equal strength in both sides of their bodies. Many people are even weaker on one side due to injuries, so if they have a weak shoulder they may need to build up supporting muscles. I wonder if holding strengthening poses (like Warrior II or side plank) a second or 2 longer on your “weaker” side could potentially aid in balance and an easier, lighter Chatarunga for everyone.
The starting position is prone.
Left arm is out at a 90 degree angle to the body. Palm down.
Roll the body to the left, keeping the left arm where it is.
Step the right foot over the left leg. Right foot comes flat on the ground, right knee is bent.
If flexibility permits, the left foot may also come flat on the ground. The sacrum may eventually need to shift a little to the left to then come flat on the ground as well.
I hope this helps. I was not able to find a picture online.
I’m trying to picture Open Sesame, but I’m not clear on what the starting position is: prone, supine, seated, standing?… And the directions say sole of right foot to the floor twice in a row which is confusing. I would like to try these. Is there a picture somewhere?… Thank you