Chaturanga Alignment Part 1

Chaturanga Alignment Part 1

Chaturanga Alignment

3 Actions To Get Stronger

Why Get Stronger?

Chaturanga is one of the most repeated poses in the modern yoga practice, and it happens to be one of the most challenging on the shoulders. It is highly beneficial to take a look at the mechanics of the posture. I have been studying this posture for over a decade, and I have to say chaturanga seems to be one of the most mysterious postures out there. So many teachers are offering “correct alignment” and throwing around “should’s” and “Shouldn’t’s” without taking a deep look at what is really happening. Part of why there are so many contrasting opinions is the simple misunderstanding that bones and muscles are not the same – or better put, alignment and muscle engagement don’t necessarily go hand in hand. When we say that the elbows are bent in chaturanga we are referring specifically to the structure or alignment of the pose, NOT the action of the muscles. If we are to pause in chaturanga and hold it as a posture, what are the muscles that stop the elbows from bending? You may have figured it out – the triceps. What do the triceps do? They straighten the elbows. So we can say pretty confidently that in chaturanga the elbows are bent, but we are trying to straighten them in order to stop or slow down movement. The same is true in the shoulder blades but because the shoulder blades aren’t as straight forward as bend and straighten most people have a cloudy understanding of what is happening there.

The Shoulder Blades

What is happening at the shoulder blades in chaturanga? As for the structure, I would argue that they are retracted (closer together) and most likely in what is called upward tilt (Video Time Mark – 3:30) – shoulder blades climb up and over the top of the rib cage. These joint relationships are quite normal when you do a “seated row” with your elbows close in. If the hands are wider in chaturanga the shoulder blades are less likely to be in upward tilt and more likely to just be retracted. If you don’t follow this don’t worry, just know that the shoulder blades tend to move in specific ways when the arms move, and the video above will give you the visual of these actions. Lets keep it simple – the shoulder blades are retracted when in the bent elbow position. In order to slow down the movement you would have to try to protract your shoulder blades – move them a part – as if you were trying to push back up to plank pose. In the video above there is a great visual of my shoulder blades moving from retraction to protraction at the 4 minute marker. Just like the elbow joint, we can look at the shoulder blades and say the structural alignment is retraction, but the muscle action is the opposite – we are trying to protract the shoulder blades – this is what slows down or stops the movement at the scapula. In the video I use a term that I created for my Mentorship Mastery students, and have now integrated into my new yoga system called Chromatic Yoga. This term is called a Balancing Action – an engagement of the muscular system that apposes the structural alignment. When we engage the triceps while the elbow is bent, this is a “Balancing Action”. The primary muscles that create protraction are the Seratus Anterior. If the shoulder blades are retracted and we activate these muscles then again this would be called a Balancing Action.

Protraction Action

The Seratus anterior is the muscle primarily in charge of protraction which creates stability and control in chaturanga.

 

The Foundation for

Arm Balances

A strong stable chaturanga provides a solid foundation for the majority of arm balances in the yoga practice.

 

Step 1 - External Rotation of Arms

To stabilize the arms in chaturanga, external rotation is highly effective. The arms will tend to internally rotate due to the activation of the pectoral major muscles. If we keep the pectoral major activated and oppose it with the external rotators of our rotator cuff group, then we create oppositional stability. Engaging two opposing muscle groups at the same time is not easy, it takes effort and coordination, however it is absolutely possible. In the above picture you see my biceps are facing out and hands are out as a result of that rotation. When the hands are on the ground they can’t move, so when you externally rotate the elbows will come inward. My suggestion is elbows vertical over the wrists, not touching your rib cage. Bonus- this often takes pressure off of the outer wrist.

Step 2: Depression of the Scapula

One way to stabilize the shoulder blades is to depress them down the back. In addition to stability this provides the added benefit of potentially relaxing the pectoral minor muscle which tends to get over used and abused from repetitive chaturangas. Depression of the scapula can be quite challenging if you are not a climber or actively work your lower trapezius and latissimus muscles. Our shoulder blades are often resting downward, but that is due to gravity, not strength. When depressing the shoulder blades be sure to think from the back muscles, because it is easy to press the front of your shoulder down the front of your chest resulting in upward tilt of the scapula as mentioned in the above video. Depression of the scapula can prevent upward tilt if done properly. 

Step 3: Protraction

Separating the shoulder blades away from one another and around the rib cage creates stability and resistance against gravity. While you will likely still be in retraction of your scapula in chaturanga, I am suggesting to actively resist in order to hold the posture or slow down the decent. This takes a tremendous amount of body awareness, so it is highly beneficial to practice this in postures like plank and forearm plank. These two postures have a fixed elbow joint making it easier to feel just the action of protraction. Also see Chaturanga Part 2 in order to learn how develop the body awareness necessary for this action. One tip I will offer is that it helps to think of puffing up the upper back. You may wind up activating the abdominals which can inadvertently support protraction. 

Many Methods, Many Benefits

There are many approaches to postures like Chaturanga, these are just a few of the shoulder actions that can support stability for you.   

 

What is Next?

The best thing you can do for yourself when attaining new knowledge is to find ways to integrate it. Through the integration process you can develop proficiency of the techniques which allows you to access them on demand, and in more postures. How do you integrate them? This was a common question that came up after this video was released. I created a free follow up blog to support you in this adventure! Part 2 of this blog gives you 3 exercises to practice in order to become familiar with the actions so you can apply them to your practice of chaturanga. Thanks for stopping by, and please share this blog with others who you feel would benefit! 

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The Key To Arm Balances

The Key To Arm Balances

The Key to arm Balances

Learn the secret to balancing on your hands

 

The Secret is Simple

Finding ease in arm balances can seem like a mystery, and it can be frustrating to figure them out while struggling to breath in positions that feel constricting. The secret to arm balances is simple, but it is not always easy to put into action. Picture a balance scale – the old fashion kind – when both sides are even the scale is “balanced”. There is no difference between a balance scale and your body, but its visually harder to understand. The center of the scale is where your hand meets your wrists.

Lets think about crow pose for a moment, you will see in the picture to the right (or below if you’re on mobile or a tablet)with a red line to show you where the shaft of a balance scale would be. I call the hips and legs the “back side” of the pose, and the heart and head the “front side”. In order for the back and front side to be equal we must lean forward quite a bit. This presents a bit of fear for many yogis, and for a good reason! You could easily lean too far, too fast. This is why its important to build strength in your fingers and wrists. the primary muscles that stop the body from leaning too far are the flexors of the wrists and fingers. I call these muscles “The Breaks” and much like driving any vehicle, you will not feel safe without them! For this reason alone its super important to strengthen the breaks so that you build a trust in yourself, and as your trust builds you will be willing to lean forward more and more into the strength of your wrists.  In my Handstand Training video I provide some of my top exercises for “the breaks”

When most people first try to lean froward they actually tend to sink, softening the elbow joints and melting the shoulder blades toward each other. This will make the posture heavy and will actually make it harder to balance. To be sure you aren’t doing this film yourself, or better yet find a teacher, or a friend to support you with visual coaching.

 

Step 1 - All 4's with a Block

First work with a block behind the forearm on all fours. To be clear this deep extension of the wrist, so be mindful, if you feel that your muscles are straining back the block up an inch. The idea here is to grip the ground with your fingers which will activate the flexor muscles. Because the hand is in extension, the flexor muscles are elongated significantly, so gripping the ground could prove to be challenging. 

Step 2: Chaturanga with a block

The next step is to work on lowering from plant to chaturanga with the block directly behind the forearm. I recommend only going down a few inches and trying to hold. You will notice in my chaturanga and crow pose my elbows are only slightly bent. This will make it easier to stay lifted and light. Same is true for the fingers, keep gripping the ground! To Strengthen your wrist, I highly recommend Handstand Training

Step 3: Crow Pose

Crow pose is significantly more challenging so if this is new for you be sure to work with a teacher first, and a landing cushion would be an intelligent choice if you ask me. Apply the same action but go slower. Grip the ground and apply the breaks, then lean into that resistance. If you are more proficient in arm balances, you can try this in a posture like Ekapada Koundenyasana 2  or flying pigeon. 

Avoiding Wrist Pain

Wrist pain is common when people first start their yoga practice or arm balance practice. That doesn’t mean its a good thing, but it probably means the muscles that surround the joint are not strong and probably not balanced. The wrists are not a muscle you can simply work realy hard a few times and see positive results. More likely you will strain the muscles if you go that route. Instead spend small amounts of time practicing these exercises but do them often. This is how I training my own wrists and have had much success with feeling good over the course of 12 plus years of practicing handstands and arm balances. 

Thank you for reading and watching! if you have questions, comments or requests please share them here!

-Matt

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Arm Balances: Protraction Action

Arm Balances: Protraction Action

arm Balances: Protraction

Finding Ease and Lightness in Arm Balances

 

Targeted Strength

Most who practice yoga have come to realize that the practice requires a certain physical strength that doesn’t necessarily coincide with the image of strength in our head. Every yogi has seen ta physically in shape gym goer walk in to a yoga class and struggle in his/her first down dog. The reason for this is because there are tons of muscles in the body, and all of them have a purpose. The ones you see on the surface are called the superficial muscles, and their job is primarily to create big movements like swinging a baseball bat, jumping, climbing, etc. While many Yoga postures and transitions require the use of these muscles, the Deep muscles or stabilizing muscles are often most used. In this video I go over the muscle groups that I find are most important for the majority of arm balances.

Seratus Anterior

The muscles I speak of in this video are the Serratus Anterior, and the 4 layers of abdominals (rectus abdominis, external obliques, internal obliques, and transverse abdominis). Serratus Anterior is incredibly important for many arm balances because it creates stability in the shoulder blades, and moves the body away from the ground. In the “Handstand Strength Training” video I give exercises in plank pose to help students develop the strength of this muscle. When this muscles is fully engaged in plank the body is further away from the ground. The same is true in arm balances. Further from the ground begins to feel lighter and easier, and as mentioned in the video above, your wrists will feel better as well. The reason you feel lighter and more at ease when the Serratus Anterior is fully engaged is simple- all muscles have an easier to contracting when they are fully shortened. Think of your bicep muscle- Isn’t it easier to hold a weight in your hand when your you hand is closest to your shoulder vs half way down at the “holding a tray” position. Part of this is relationship to gravity but even if you changed the angle of your body that would still be the easiest position for the muscles to be engaged. This is the same reason why its easier to do a little tiny pull up vs going through full range of motion from straight arms all the way up to bent arms. If you are looking to build strength in the Serratus Anterior check out the Handstand Strength Training.

The Core

The four abdominals have multiple functions including flexion (rounding) of the spine, twisting, side bending, stabilizing, and compressing/lifting inner organs (primarily the transverse abdominis). Depending on the pose, many arm balances require one or more abdominals to engage because of the shape, and because they have the ability to make the mid section more compact. The more compact you feel, the lighter you will feel because all the extremities tend to pull in closer to the center of gravity when the abdominals engage. What I am not going over in this video is the important roll that your legs play within all arm balances. I will be releasing another video on Youtube soon showing you how the legs relate the core. If you are interested in finding out when that video goes up subscribe to my newsletter and I will let you know. Developing strength in the abdominals has long been a part of the fitness industry, but until recently it was purely for visual purposes. Most people associate having a six pack with health, but the reality is that its more important to have core intelligence then strength. A little strength and a lot of awareness go a very long way, much further then a lot of strength and little awareness of how to use it. Developing strength through applied actions such as doing handstand, crow pose, or exercises that produce greater intelligence in your body is what I focus on in my handstand and arm balance practice. As a result not only do I feel strong in my asana practice but my back feels great, and I am able to apply the awareness to other activities that require body intelligence. For my favorite core strengtheners you click here, or if you are looking for free ways to learn, simply search youtube for how to strengthen the 4 muscles of the core (I searching each muscle separately). Anyone who offers an application for the strength and not just the exercise is likely thinking along the same lines of “muscle intelligence” vs strength. Remember you want to know what the muscle does intellectually and know what it feels like in your body. That combination will make it easier to apply later on to your practice!

 

Plank at the Wall

Taking plank at the wall is one of the best ways to truly develop a proprioception for protracting the shoulder blades. As mentioned in the video protraction is when you push the shoulder blades a part from one another, and they move around your rip cage. This is an activation of the serratus anterior muscles which tend to require strengthening for most people. At the wall, you can focus on the action without the requirement of the strength.

Flexion of the Spine

Flexion of the spine in arm balances requires the muscular activation of the rectus abdominals, obliques and likely the deep core muscles such as the poses. While it is possible to do arm balances with the core completely relaxed and still hold the postures, it tends to be easier with the recruitment of them. To develop strength in your core, I highly recommend my top exercises on the Handstand Training video. 

Crow With Protraction and flexion

Putting the two actions together might sound complicated but actually the two actions go hand in hand. Protraction makes spinal flexion easier to access and visa versa. I recommend first trying this in plank posture. If you haven’t yet watch the two blogs on Chaturanga, this is the best place to start for integrating protraction into your arm balances. After you’ve worked with chaturanga, if you feel confident balancing crow, than you can try applying these actions. 

First Awareness, Then Strength.

It’s easy to try and jump ahead and go straight to our most challenging arm balance posture and try to apply new actions to it. This approach is ok but if you find that you are not getting it or not feeling a difference it’s likely because your body needs to develop an awareness around the action itself before it can build strength. We need to create the feed back loop in our body from thought to action to sensation and back again. Once that feed back loop is established strength can be built through repetition. 

Thanks for joining me here, I hope these tips help with your practice and/or your teaching. Please share your comments, questions or requests and I will get back to you. 

-Matt

Handstand Strength Training

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SAMADHI Dissolving into the state of oneness.SamadhiSamadhiSamadhi is the experience we have when the mind realizes the totality of itself - that it is one part of an infinitely grander whole. Using an analogy from one of my teachers, Alan Finger – Consiousness is...

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Chaturanga Alignment Part 2

Chaturanga Alignment Part 2

Integrating Shoulder ActionsIntegrating the 3 Necessary Shoulder Actions into your practice can be complicated, so to help you I have come up with 3 Steps to Master your Chaturanga. If you haven't yet watched Chaturanga Alignment: 3 Necessary Shoulder Actions  then it...

read more

THANKS FOR JOINING

Hips: Rock & Unlock 'Em

Get 2 full hours with Matt Giordano focusing on the techniques that increase the range of motion in your hips and provide long lasting freedom. You will have immediate, unlimited access, and can enjoy the benefits today!

 

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Are you looking to go deeper in your study of yoga and want an online resource to support you in your journey? This training packed with content to advance your practice and teaching! You can take your time or immerse yourself in the training.

 

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A long time best seller, this handstand training brings you the tools and training that are required for a masterful handstand. In this series  you will build strength in the areas of the body that actually matter, and learn the why and how with each step.

 

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When You Subscribe You Will Instantly Get Access To

  • The Technique Pack: 15 Yoga Pose Breakdowns
  • Exclusive Online Course Discounts 
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