If you've ever taken a yoga class labeled "power" or "vinyasa," you've probably done your fair share of chaturangas. You've probably also heard teachers talk about how important good form is, and how chaturanga is the basis for many arm balances and inversions.
But if I had a nickel for every poorly-performed chaturanga I've seen over the years, I'd be rich. Why? Because it's really stinking hard!
Before we talk about how to do it properly, let's first talk about what it should look like. Proper chaturanga arms form a right angle from the floor - forearms perpendicular and upper arms parallel. It's easier to see in a static pose like a headstand or an arm balance:
Okay, so now that we know how our arms are supposed to look and the angle we are trying to achieve, let's put it into its more common context, within a sun salute.
We typically move into chaturanga from plank, and if you take my level one classes where I give extra instruction, you always hear me say, "shift forward on your toes." Why is that important? Because if you don't, then your chaturanga looks like this:
Now, I'm no geometry whiz, but that ain't no right angle. I'm pretty sure this was my dumpy chaturanga for many years before I learned good form. You see how my shoulders are dipping down toward the floor? That puts way too much strain on the joints, which can lead to biceps tendonitis. (Yeah, I had to go to physical therapy for that.)
I also realized when performing this version as an illustration for this blog post that I felt absolutely no muscular engagement in my arms, chest or upper back. It felt really easy. As my students often say, "If it feels too easy, I know I'm probably doing it wrong!"
So from plank, when you first shift forward on your toes, and then lower about halfway down, taking care not to let the elbows splay out, you get here:
Check out the angle of my arms and also how I've shifted forward on my left toes. Oodles of muscular engagement.
As I said before, it's a really stinking hard pose! If you are new to it, or just new to this type of muscular engagement, I encourage you to try some modifications to help you get the hang of it without hurting yourself. The obvious choice is to drop your knees before lowering. This takes a good deal off the weight-bearing part of the pose and will help you keep your back safe as you build core strength. Keep your belly drawn in and lengthen your tailbone.
Another awesome tool to help with chaturanga form is to use blocks to help you know how far to lower down to the floor. I use this method in workshops and private sessions, and it is always very enlightening. Measure the block against the length of your forearm to make sure you use the right block height. Typically the high setting is best unless you've got really short bones.
Here's how that looks, with and without dropping to knees:
And then once you build strength, try it without blocks:
Once you've mastered chaturanga, it really does open up your practice to all sorts of cool tricks, like this!
But remember to respect that this is a practice, and honor where you are in the process. Try my suggestions and let me know how it goes in the comments below. Namaste and happy chaturanga-ing!