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.
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!
Like this article? Read Assess The Temperament Of Your Dog Before You Master The Pose
Learn more about the rotator cuff and how Yoga Tune Up can help.
Yoga is a kind of exercise that combines breathing exercises, yoga positions, and mindfulness. The practice of mindfulness involves concentrating your attention immediately. Yoga participants frequently employ breathing and yoga positions to help the mind relax. Yoga for children can help children and adults become more active, flexible, and thoughtful, which will improve their overall well-being! Yoga fosters a secure, adaptable, and inclusive atmosphere for creativity, physical movement that allows everyone to succeed. Yoga may be included in the school day at any moment. Consider the Always Live Yoga’s supporter aims and then choose a set time of day to combine the exercises on a regularly scheduled basis. It was simpler. https://www.alwaysliveyoga.com/kidsyoga
I agree with this so much, they way chaturangas are used in class is crazy. They aren’t used a single pose that is visited by the teacher and explained but more as a transition pose that most teacher (I am guilty of this too!) just assume that everyone knows how to do and can do it. I believe chaturangas have a time and place, and if we treat it more as an actual pose and not just as a transition and build up the students into it breaking down the movements, it can be a very effective pose. It can make it less intimidating for people seeing all the movements that are playing a role in the chaturanga in a different perspective.
Chaturangas are a perfect example of treating yoga like a general prescription. While the movement itself is neither good or bad (it depends on context of an individual’s body and movement history), like the article mentions, there are endless amounts of ways to work the shoulders. Knowing that the shoulders are made up of such complex systems, and can move in so many different ways, why do we prescribe a single movement in yoga classes to address this rich diversity of movement? Definitely worth reconsidering and that doesn’t mean taking it out of your practice but approaching chaturanga (and every other pose or choice in life) with a backing of context and an exploration of the “why?” Awesome article!
I’ve cut way down on the number of chaturangas I teach in vinyasa classes, and one thing that helps students stay lifted rather than collapsed in the pose is to cue their gaze. If you’re looking at the floor and your neck is flexed, it’s unlikely your thoracic spine is neutral or your shoulders are properly engaged, even if you have the chest and arm strength to do the pose properly . A cue to look 6-12 inches in front of the mat (along with good instruction on shoulder position and total permission to skip the pose) has helped many of my students.
I completely agree with this. I do love this pose and sun salutations but you need to respect that it takes time to build this into your practice. Teaching your students the prerequisites will give them a long lasting practice.
So true…..sometimes we need to change the way we do a pose to find more efficient and safer ways to practice the pose. We do this pose so often sometimes it’s a great idea to not do the pose for a while or do the pose completely different than you have ever done it before!
Pointing out speed as one of the key factors in misaligned and misused chaturangas is something I couldn’t agree more with. Any more, chaturanga isn’t even used as a pose – it’s used as a transition, and I notice so many students who are quick to simply drop their hips or just flop to the ground because they are rushing to the upward dog/cobra or don’t have the strength to lower down. I’m reminded of the quote “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” Our goal as educated instructors should always be to get our students to move safely and EFFECTIVELY through poses and transitions.
Couldn’t agree more on the information of this blog post. As yoga teachers or anyone who is passionate about helping people to move better in their body, it’s very important to understand that not every yoga poses/ exercises are for everyone. Here’s one great example about chaturangas and jill had also wrote an article about downward facing dog. Yoga teachers should not be pushing students into poses and students should never felt ashamed for saying no to certain poses during class! Thanks for the wonderful information!
Spot-on! Thank you again. Yes, I feel also going straight from chaturanga to downward facing dog make me loose the right shoulder rotation. Before I started rotating my shoulders how they should be throughout the practice I did not have pain, but obviously did not have the right rotation in the shoulders to avoid shoulder injury in the future… The pain does not feel sweet, but wrong, so I am not sure if continuing forcing my shoulders with what is supposed to be the right rotation, or to avoid this rotation working on my shoulder muscles first. Anybody with the same experience?
It’s so important to raise this question with all practitioners. Many often will follow what the teacher says without questioning it or learning to modify. Or opting out completely. Doing Chaturanga in a yoga class has become synonymous with a successful yoga class — and it’s just not true. I look forward to reading your next post and excited about this conversation.
Yes! Thank you for pointing out that chaturunga is so often instructed, but very rarely broken down and explained properly. I had been doing repetitive chaturungas is classes for years before finally being demonstrated proper alignment.
Also I agree that being given the option to modify the pose is very important. Thank you Kayleigh!
That class sounds frightening. Watching people do chaturanga most times is often just as frightening and the longer people practice, the harder it is to break their poor postural habits, but it’s worth it. I’ve been slowly removing both chaturanga and up dog from classes to alleviate some of the strain. It allows also for more creativity in sequencing breaking the habitual pattern of the “traditional” “vinysasa”.
I do agree that chatarunga’s often are done incorrectly. I observe many students misaligned elbows, chest, head dropping too low, and no tubular core engaged. I tend to stop my class when I am teaching if I notice sloppy chatarungas and offer modfications (straps/knees down etc..). Lately I have started to teach with limited to no chatarungas and feeling like I was breaking the law so it is refreshing to see that you omit. Doesn’t mean I never teach it as there are some pros to the chatarunga such as strengthening our pecs,tris and core. It is all about saftey and as a yoga teacher I feel that is my job to be sure that postures I teach are safe and not just “pretty”!
I agree 100% with your assessment. Charuranga is the most overrated yoga asana, and one that I always sequence towards, offer modifications for, and entirely skip when possible. Finding shoulder stability in poses like serratus plank and side plank are much more important and much more challenging that zipping through misaligned yogi push ups. I know the feeling of modification shaming in strong vinyasa classes, and find it so harmful. Thank you for sharing your insights and giving other teachers permission to omit this pose from their practice and teaching!
Thank you for this post and explaining why chaturangas may not be the best option. I have also experienced bullying in class to do that exercise when my posture cannot be maintained optimally. It’s great that you provide options.
Oh chutturanga! I have practiced this pose for over a decade and it took some pain and injury for me to re-think/ask why and try again (after a few months break). I truly do love the pose but now that I know how to do it properly and teaching it is a challenge that I enjoy. We don’t do a lot of them and sometimes we modify the entire class by lowering the knees to prevent dumping in the shoulders and waking up the tubular core 🙂 Very much agreed that a yoga practice does not need to include a chutturanga and if so, 1 or 2 will do with option to modify.
I agree with what you said about the damaging effects of chaturanga. The sequence of lowering to chaturanga and then spinning around to up dog causes so much tension in the shoulders, as evidenced by the grimaces you see on the faces in the class. While your first chaturanga may be impeccable, is it not possible to maintain that form after 6 or 7!
I had no idea that chaturanga was this bad for your shoulders. I rarely do chaturanga in my own practice or while teaching classes because it never felt good in my body. I thought it was because I was lacking in upper body strength and now I’m realizing it was stirring up shoulder issues. So glad ytu is bringing this information out into the yoga community.
I am so grateful that I came into yoga with a degree in Exercise Science and a tighter body. My body awareness is pretty good and I’ve had to fight for every inch of flexibility. I think this has saved me from injuries and has made me a better teacher by keeping in me in my body. Do I need more of a warm up so my shoulder can do this? It has also prevented me from following a teacher whose basis is on creating ridiculous flows. Wheel as the second pose?! I can’t do a full wheel properly prepped. Unfortunately, there are many teachers and trainings out there that don’t properly know the human body or think beyond showing off what they can do.
Chaturanga is a pose so many do wrong and just throw their bodies through the pose as they “flow” through their Vinyasa. Frequently, I cringe as my body hurts watching them. One challenge I’ve found as a teacher is how a number of yogis don’t really want to change how they move. Stopping to break down Chaturanga to help create better patterns, just is an obnoxious break for them. In which case, I may not be the best teacher for them.
Thanks for this article, often, I also do not teach Chaturanga unless I can thoroughly break the posture down, and help the students understand the correct postural alignment. Chaturanga, when performed out of alignment has a high potential for shoulder injury.
I agree with many points of this post, however, I still love my chatarungas. When done properly, this pose is one of the best ways to strengthen, the core, pecs, triceps, and wait for it…serratus anterior. The problem, as you pointed out, is that most teachers do not take the time to isolate this pose and teach proper mechanics. This is imperative. I am in the camp that touts that chatarunga is not the pose for everyone, and that said, I encourage my students to drop their knees in order to support their chatarungas. And in time, they will build strength to do the full pose. But knees down or not, the most powerful way to do this pose is to actively push the hands into the mat while bending the elbows. This will keep the serratus anterior activated and take the load of the trapezius and rotator cuff muscles. Also, tubular core and contracted quads are MUSTS to successfully do this pose without injury.
First, I would like to say that I found your words very liberating. I often feeI like I am “cheating,” if I skip Chaturanga. Nonetheless, I fear that my lack of strength in surrounding muscles has led to a dull aching feeling in my left shoulder. I have two questions for you: 1) How long does it take for the discomfort to diminish? and 2) What can I do to strengthen my pecs and deltoids, so that I will be better equipped for this asana?
Ahh, the dreaded chaturanga! As many others have mentioned, I too see the majority of my students practicing chaturanga incorrectly. Teaching in a gym, students expect and want to practice a full vinyasa. I’m trying to come up with new ways to give them the feel of vinyasa without risking their shoulders. I look forward to your future posts on this subject!
This is a great article that addresses the “elephant in the room” experience that can be felt in a vinyasa style class. Like many who have commented on this blog, I too see a very small percentage of students who can correctly execute chaturanaga and even fewer who can do it repetitively. I love that you promote the fact that it is okay to generate an alternative pose that works for that individual rather than forcing them to continue with that recipe for injury. I can’t wait to see what your alternatives are.
Love this article for the simple reason that it may give someone the ‘ok’ to say no thanks to chaturanga! Often times, people do things just because everyone else around them is doing it without listening to what their own bodies are saying to them. I am a yoga instructor and have explained to students that I do very few chaturangas myself. Of course they are in shock but then I explain why. One reason is that years ago I needed to skip them to recover from a rotator cuff injury. but then once I had recovered I didn’t feel the need to do as many. I would just pepper in a few at a time. As I observe students, many times the alignment is out of sorts to the point that they aren’t strengthening but instead injuring. Then, its time to pause and break down the pose. Which is very difficult for someone in the process of building shoulder strength. I will also limit the number of chaturangas I instruct in class. Thanks for the article and possibly the permission for someone to say ‘no thank you’ to chaturanga.
Great article. Learning the right way to do a chaturanga is so important given that many shoulder injuries arise from the numerous chaturangas in a vinyasa class. Very few teachers will give modifications, such as knees down or knees chest chin and highlight that these variations are just as good. What ends up happening is that people who do not yet have the strength to come down push themselves into the pose incorrectly and this is very dangerous. As a recent TT graduate, I want to make sure that my students are safe and will make sure to let them know that nothing good will come out of it and that the strength will come, but only if the correct muscles are being activated!
That darn chaturanga. It’s such an iconic yoga pose, and yet most of us can’t do it right, even when we think we are. When I took my 200 hour course in 2003, the Ashtanga series was heavily emphasized, and I don’t think it ever once occurred to me that yoga could be done without the vinyasa flowing through chaturanga and into Up Dog. After taking the YTU Level One course, however, I think I may finally have the courage to let chaturanga (and the part of my ego attached to it!) go for a while and see if any of the soreness I sometimes feel in my right shoulder will ease up. Maybe I’ll substitute some external rotation and extension of the shoulder from a prone position when it comes time for the chaturanga/Up Dog combo!
Kayleigh I appreciate your anatomical breakdown of a chaturanga, thank you for the article. More than the anatomy lesson, I appreciate you empowering yoga students to simply say no! We are ultimately in charge of our own bodies, the buck stops with us, not with the teacher. We must know our own bodies or the instructor holds no chance to help! With your “anatermical” break down of this pose you’ve empowered us to understand better why this pose may not be great for us 30 times in a 1 hour class!
I find chataranga very important BUT difficult pose. Modern population is so weak from spending all the time sitting that most of them can hardly hold the weight of their own bodies. So we have to practice chataranga but again not the classic way like in sun salutation. it is a very hard pose and needs a lot of pre-workout and adjustment and variations. Start with planks and half planks with active serratus, dolphin pose, chataranga on the knees again with active serratus in YTU stile. and gradually chataranga can become a part of daily practice
I am just finishing day two of the YTU Level 1 training and look forward to learning about the YTU push ups and Mega plank that one person was just talking about in a comment below your blog. I am one of these people you talk about that now has shoulder pain (so much pain last fall I couldn’t sleep) and am so glad to be learning more about the muscles and how to strengthen the whole shoulder joint not just the posterior muscles! I am also trying to move away from teaching so many vinyasas in my power or power viny classes and am glad for the new material.
I had to have a laugh at the clowns in a car analogy; you can definitely have too many chaturangas! As a teacher when I study my students I find probably only 10% are doing chaturanga correctly and even the students with the strength to do it correctly often lose their alignment around the 4th chaturanga because they are tired. I like to break down chatarunga and give lots of other options. It is important that students know that just because it is being offered over and over again in a class (maybe not in my class, but in others they are attending) that there are alternatives. I’m excited to read your next articles and see your alternatives to chaturangas. My rotator cuffs thank you for this blog.
As a recently certified yoga teacher, this is a very important lesson to learned early in time. On my first classes, teaching I felt compelled to do as many vinyasas as I could because I was adapting my classes to the classes I’ve been taking so far. However, being on the other side and actually looking at my students, it was painful to watch how bad this pose is for some people. So I stopped, altogether. I started to deconstruct the movements and try to build the pose bit by bit for them. Then, I ran into a Jill Miller video and opened my eyes in so many ways about what are we teaching, how are we teaching it and why are we teaching these poses. Its important for a teacher to know how the movement takes places and all of the muscles that that movement involves. We are teachers for a reason, because we want to teach our students to move better, to feel better in their bodies. Looking forward to the second part!
YES!! So many teachers over do the chuturangas, not only that, but never actually teach the pose. Instead, just using it as a transition. I really appreciate this article and will not fall into this yoga trap in my teacher.
My jaw dropped a bit with the clowns in a car analogy. Lots of chaturangas in a yoga class are more reflective of the teachers ego than their ability to teach.
As a yoga teacher I see so many of students that have the “every chatturanga counts” mentality. Unfortunately only a small percentage of the class can properly complete the pose. I am looking forward for your next article on what one can do instead! Thank you for your insight.
Thank you Kayleigh! It is so important that we as yogis understand that not every pose is for everyone. I do know devoted hot power yoga enthusiasts who have “blown out” their shoulders and they attribute it to Chatturange. Strength in the core and the shoulders play into whether this pose is for you. I also have been taught that this pose presents more difficulties for people with carrying angles at the elbows. Carrying angles are a bend in the elbows when you bring your arms to your side with the shoulders externally rotated and the palms facing forward. This is a difference in bone structure which will not be changed by more strength or stretching work. I do have carrying angles. I did not make progress in the pose in spite of big gains in strength. When I was told that Chatturanga is harder with carrying angles, this explanation seemed to align with my experience. I would love to hear from others with carrying angles about their experience of the pose.
I started to move away from teaching sun salutations because of all the “potential pain” I see in the transitions participants take. I am learning many tools with YTU to help me teach this more clearly.
Thank you! As a yoga teacher who teaches a flow class at a gym I only have a small percentage of students that can preform chaturanga safely. With in increase of internal rotation of the shoulders from electronics I now focus on knees down as an option for most students. Keeping my students safe while they work out shoulder tension and increase strength prevents possible injury.
“Misalignment, speed and repetition” really is a recipe for disaster. There’s this notion that if we keep doing something, we’ll get better at it, but practice only makes perfect if we’re practicing it CORRECTLY. I’ve seen students who have been doing things misaligned (and chaturanga is a huge one) for so many years that their bodies actively fight against them when they try to change their bad habits. Then of course there’s the ego, which is even more resistant to admitting that something isn’t working. I think there’s more and more movement away from the hard core vinyasa-for-the-sake-of-vinyasa style of yoga, but it’s still rampant. We need more YTU teachers to continue to turn the tide away from repetitive strain and injury and towards biomechanically safe movement that will keep our bodies working for us over the long haul!
I totally agree that some of the teachers are overusing that pose. Especially if we are in the inveroment that have basic and advanced peple. Bad chaturanga can bring a lot of stress in to the shoulders. What more it doesnt make a sence to do that pose if more of the people are doing it in wrong way.
Invaluable!!! I wish some of the yogis i knew could understand this!! I have injured both my shoulders, ( not from yoga) and it has made me back off my inner vinyasa. These injuries have taught me so much about caring for my body better and that doing a million shitty inner vinyasas does not make you a enlightened yogi!
Funny that I never put together the possibility that chaturanga could be exacerbating the postural problems caused by sitting at my desk all day…or writing blog comments ;^) Thanks for shining light on that blind spot.
This article is very timely as I just finished Day 3 of Yoga TuneUp Level 1 teaching and we worked on the shoulders, focusing on healthy actions and looking at pitfalls that befall many a yoga practitioner – one of the bigs ones is, as you have shown, is chaturanga. Your focus on the front to back relationship is critical – just like in Anatomy Trains – where the different myofasical lines are examined in terms of what is tighter and what is more stretched. This of course raises this very interesting question: why is the American yoga practice so focused on a sequence that tightens muscles in the front of the chest which are already tight due to our habitual movement patterns? Thanks for the article.
Yes, great point – we need to warm up our shoulder muscles before doing chaturanga. It is one of them most challenging poses and ego driven pose in the vinyasa flow. I also agree that our modern body that is glued to the computer makes more challenging to perform this pose. We just simply do not have enough upper body strength to do this pose efficiently and transitioning from chaturanga to other asanas quickly. I always teach modified version on the knees to build up upper body strength.
Kayleigh, thank you for this. I strongly agree. As a yoga practitioner, yoga teacher, and massage therapist, I see this as a major issue in a lot of students/clients and classes. I personally am dealing with bicep and rotator cuff tendonitis after years of not practicing this pose properly, and perhaps some wear and tear from my years as an MT. I think this pose can make or break a students ability to have a life long practice. And why I personally have been saying no to chaturangas and lowering down knees, chest, chin as I transition to cobra.
This article is a great reminder that “even though you can, doesn’t mean you should.” I used to be an avid fan of doing a lot of push-ups and thinking it was “cool” to do many of these. It wasn’t until I learned more anatomy that I realized doing too many push-ups was actually contributing to my already poor posture/tight pecs shoulders/weak back muscles that were already exacerbated by my desk job. Now as a part time conditioning and yoga teacher, I have students do less push-ups and more back exercises than before. In my yoga classes I emphasize chaturanga as optional, or to even skip it. Sometimes doing less is more.
I am with Yvonne. I will often lead a class through a Surya Namaskar watching chatarunga carefully before I begin weaving in additional sequencing. Its an essential piece of a vinyasa practice that sometimes goes unattended and students deserve the clarity to stay safe in this transition. Wish I could get to your class! Thanks for the great post!
I can recall hearing may yoga students assessing a class and how “awesome” it was (and they are) for the number of vinyasas included. Not only can anything be overdone and lead to overuse injuries, but such a precarious posture(where few people have the proper alignment and strength) leads to a lot of trashed shoulders. There are so many ways to heat up the body, a million sun salutations is not always the answer. Thank you!
I am so glad to hear that I am not the only one to be having problems with this pose and this matches with my experience, both personal and proffessional. I am not a yoga teacher, but a chiropractor and have personally experienced this pose and some other similar shoulder poses and practices which do the same. I work all day on people’s shoulders, getting the anterior internal rotators to release and showing them how to activate the external shoulder rotators and create stability while in motion. This line of inquiry and information is wonderfully helpful! Thank you.
I think the problem starts when Chatturanga is taught as a transition rather than as a pose. I wonder how many yogis haven’t suffered pain or injury from repeated vinyasas without the strength or attention required of this pose? I only learned how to really do it after being hurt and having to stop for months. You can still teach a lovely, moving with the breath flow without the “falling with style” of chatturanga.
Every week one of my classes always includes a refresher, using props, or a workshop type pause, to remind students of how important it is to stabilises the entire shoulder girdle in chaturanga – especially as many classes have students doing this repeatedly with little or no instruction – but also for the health of the shoulders in any weight bearing position. I find that it’s an arduous process of repetition before I see the students begin to embody the proper shoulder placement in Chaturanga. As a vinyasa with alignment teacher, I find myself cutting back drastically on Chaturangas, and offering several modifications for those who want to move through the transition, as I know the long term effects this can have on your Yoga practice, but also in your life – Imagine not being able to reach for anything! Thanks again for this important lesson that reminds us to take our take and embody our body before Chaturanging it! 🙂
I love love love this article. I could not agree more. I do teach vinyasa but I break down each variation and don’t do more than 8-10 in a class. I encourage students with shoulder injuries or chest weakness to avoid chatarunga and I usually do a third of the salutations at a class I attend. It’s just overemphasized when there’s so much other juicy yoga to share.
This was very nice to read because when I’m in certain yoga classes I feel that need to always chaturanga; however, I began to have some sharp pain in my pecs. I believe it has to do with excessively contracting those muscles and never strengthening the antagonists like you were describing. Thank you for your insight!
Kayleigh, great article. I’m looking forward to the next one on Friday. Chatturanga is a challenging pose and I never understand why some yoga teachers take it so lightly and simply brush over or never talk about technique. In a lot of vinyasa flow classes, students tend to rush through it. I see elbows sticking out, shoulders dipping forward, no tubular core, heads dropping, floppy legs…drives me nuts when I’m in a class and the teacher fails to address it. One of the reasons I love YTU is because as YTU teachers we can intelligently address the muscles, bones, etc. As a teacher, I will stop the class and “workshop” the pose if I see a lot of misalignment. I love Mega Plank with Active Serratus or YTU Yogi Push Ups. Some students don’t like it as they may feel it affects the “feel of the flow”. As a teacher, I want them to practice safely. The best reward is when a student tells you a few weeks later, that my mini “workshop” changed her practice and that her elbows no longer ached.