Last month I went to a yoga class which puzzled me, both with sequencing and theory. The second posture of the sequence was full wheel (a deep backbend) followed by handstand and a deep forward fold, all in a cold room in mid-October. These things were both challenging in and of themselves, but the worst of it was when the teacher said that “chaturangas in a yoga class are like clowns in a clown car-the more you can fit in, the better.” I’m afraid I don’t agree with that sentiment, and I’ve been in classes where I’ve been bullied by the teacher for not doing all the vinyasa sequences. I rarely teach it, which can leave some students perplexed, and I sequence around other ways of lowering to a belly backbend. Why? Let’s start with what chaturanga, as a yoga asana, is.


Image courtesy of Leslie Kaminoff’s Yoga
Image courtesy of Leslie Kaminoff’s Yoga

As a posture, it’s basically a half lowered down push up, with the sanskrit name chaturanga dandasana, or four-limbed staff pose.   It occurs in the traditional Sun Salutation sequence, and can either be followed by upward facing dog, cobra, or another backbend.  As a strengthening pose, it focuses on pecs, anterior deltoid, and triceps, areas that are usually overly tight in most people.  A combination of poor posture, excessive sitting, computer use, and other habits, may lead to restriction in the front body (pecs/chest) and weakness in the back body (rotator cuff muscles, latissimus), and repeating this posture without strengthening the opposing muscles can create an imbalance in the shoulders.  In addition, the pose is rarely taught in isolation and repeated misalignment followed by a sequence to upward dog can put undue stress on the shoulder and biceps tendons.  By emphasizing contraction in the front of the body, which is already restricted,  yoga asana often ignores the opposing shoulder and arm muscles, such as the posterior deltoids, the rhomboids, and the external rotators of your shoulder (infraspinatus, teres minor).   The combination of misalignment, speed, and repetition is a recipe for shoulder pain and injury for many, and it’s important look at how this pose is affecting you outside of the yoga space, and how your habits in life affect this pose in the yoga space.

What can you do instead? Come back on Friday for some ways to diversify your shoulder work!


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