Chaturanga Yoga Pose Alignment and Anatomy

The Mystery FINALLY Revealed and Clarified

CHATURANGA

WHAT IS CHATURANGA AND WHY IS IT SO CONFUSING?

What is the best alignment for Chaturanga? First, let’s start with what this pose is. Chaturanga is both a yoga pose and a transition, otherwise known as a movement. A pose implies no movement, while a transition implies movement between two static postures. Because Chaturanga is used as both a static posture and a transition, it’s hard to have a universal conversation about it. We have to first agree on what it is in order to analyze. Globally, there is discussion about chaturanga and yet everyone has a different idea of what it is. Thus, there exists much controversy around correct alignment.

How could there be correct alignment when the posture is usually taught as movement from one pose to another? In modern vinyasa, this pose is used to go from plank to upward dog. In order for a movement to occur, it is a law of biomechanics that joint alignment has to change. If it doesn’t, then no movement can occur. SO, while there are many reasons to practice chaturanga as an isolated pose, that is not how most people are practicing it these days. It would be more useful to discuss how to move our bones and which muscles we can engage if we want a smooth flowing posture that minimizes risk to our joints. 

CONFUSED BY GRAVITY 

While movement is not complex, it can be confusing mostly because of our relationship to gravity. There are only there major joints that change: the elbows go from straight to bent, the arm bones go from being in front to by our side (flexion to neutral), and the shoulder blades go from protraction to retraction (more or less), explained in the video below. If you stand with your arms in front of you and simulate the same actions, there is nothing mysterious or complex, but add the weight of your body and gravity, and now it gets interesting. 

While the joint actions are simply moving from plank toward the ground, the muscle engagements that slow the body down in this transition are actually the OPPOSITE of the joints.  For example, the elbows bend, BUT the muscles that engage in order to resist the movement are actually your triceps. Triceps are the muscles that help to straighten your arm. So as you bend into your elbows, your triceps fight back, keeping you from landing on your face.  We do this all the time in transitions. We activate the opposing muscles of what is happening anatomically in our joints. We even do it in most static postures. How many poses have you done where you feel your quads burn, and yet your knees are bent? The muscles that straighten the knees are the quads, and yet they are fully engaged in bent knee postures so that you don’t land on the ground.

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CLARITY: WHAT IS THE CORRECT ALIGNMENT OR WAY TO DO CHATURANGA?

In my video below, you will hear more about “correct” and “incorrect” and why there really isn’t a way we could define that, but we can talk about efficiency, joint safety, greatest stability, or range of motion, etc. The way I suggest to practice chaturanga is as follows: .

Allow your joints to:

  1. Elbow: Bend (flexion)
  2. Shoulders: Arm Bones go from flexion (out in front as in plank) to neutral
  3. Shoulder Blades: Protraction to Retraction while moving from plank to chaturanga

What Muscles To Engage and HOW to Engage them

  1. Triceps: Try to straighten your elbow while allowing it to bend. This action is an activation of your triceps. You activate your triceps only enough to slow down the bending of the elbow but not enough that your triceps win over the weight of your body and gravity. If you did that, you’d wind up back in plank pose.
  2. Deltoids: Same here. The front deltoids are the muscles that would normally bring your arms from neutral to out in front (flexion). Activate these muscles enough that it slows down the decent but does’t stop it.
  3. Serratus Anterior:  this is the muscle that moves your shoulder blades apart and should be very active in plank; it remains active while lowering. This muscle slows the movement of the scapula from protraction to retraction. Note: this is not the same as punching your shoulder blade forward into what is called upward tilt, which I go over thoroughly in the blogs below.
  4. CHATURANA ALIGNMENT: 3 KEY ACTIONS
  5. CHATURANGA ALIGNMENT PT 2: INTEGRATE THE ACTIONS

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