The Best (and Worst) Chaturanga Modifications and Alternatives
Yoga is for everybody. But, not every yoga posture is for everybody—including Chaturanga Dandasana. For many practitioners, the pose is simply too demanding to be done with safe, stable alignment. (If this speaks to you, make sure you check out Part 1 of the series on Chaturanga shoulder alignment and Part 2, 5 Poses that Will Make Your Chaturanga Strong and Steady.)
You might also need a temporary reprieve from Chaturanga if you’re nursing a shoulder, elbow, or wrist injury. And, if you’re a vinyasa yoga teacher, you definitely want to have a few modifications and alternatives to Chaturanga up your sleeve.
BEST WAY TO GET THE FEEL FOR CHATURANGA WITH ALMOST NONE OF THE WORK: 5 CHATURANGA MODIFICATIONS
1. Chaturanga modification with a bolster
Although this is a little cumbersome because it requires a bolster—which may prove unwieldy in a flow class—the is modification supports your body weight and allows you to get a whole body feel for Chaturanga without physical rigors of the pose. This will help you build muscle memory.
How to: Simple. Just lay on a bolster like the picture demonstrates. It doesn’t get more straightforward than this.
BEST WAY TO GET THE FEEL FOR CHATURANGA WITH A LITTLE BIT OF THE WORK
2. Chaturanga modification with a block
This is nearly identical to the previous version. It’s less lux, but it’s easier to accommodate since people more often have blocks at home than bolsters. Plus, it’s possible to integrate a block in a flow class more easily than a bolster. The block supports enough of your weight to be helpful, but still requires you to work your legs and core.
How to: Again, pretty simple. Come onto all fours and place a block under your chest. You’ll have to experiment with using the side and end of the block to determine what works best with your proportions. Bend your elbows 90 degrees, rest your sternum on the block, and straighten your legs.
BEST WAY TO LEARN HOW LOW TO GO IN CHATURANGA
3. Chaturanga modification with a strap around your elbows
This has a steeper learning curve than the previous versions, but it’s my favorite overall Chaturanga modification. Wrapping a strap around your elbows will stop your torso from lowering too close to the floor and prevent your shoulders from moving into extension. The strap also supports some of your weight while still requiring you to work your shoulders, core, and legs.
How to: Make a loop with your strap. Wrap it around your arms just above your elbows. You want the loop to be large enough that when you bend your elbows for Chaturanga, your upper arms will touch the sides of your ribs. Once you figure out the correct diameter for the strap, give Chaturanga a shot. You’ll like it.
BEST MODIFICATION IN A FLOW CLASS IF YOU’RE NOT QUITE STRONG ENOUGH TO NAIL THE POSE
4. Chaturanga with a knee or two on the floor
Bringing your knees to floor supports your weight and helps you work more skillfully with your upper-body. You can choose to bring one or two knees down depending on how much support you need. This is the perfect option to take in a flow class if you just need a little support. And, hey, we all need help with things from time-to-time, so don’t hesitate to take this option if it helps you keep integrity in your shoulders.
How to: Just bring a knee or two to the floor. Tada! It’s that simple.
BEST ALTERNATIVE TO CHATURANGA IF YOU’RE NURSING A SHOULDER OR WRIST ISSUE
5. Locust with your palms facing the floor
If you have a shoulder and wrist challenge, getting to the floor isn’t possible. If it’s not possible to get to the floor or do Plank without pain, it’s to give yourself a break. But, if you’re comfortable with Plank and the transition to the floor, practicing Locust with your palms facing the ground is an excellent option. In very broad strokes, turning the palms toward the floor externally rotates the arms and strengthens part of the shoulder joint that is highly beneficial to many different shoulder maladies.
How to: From Plank Pose, bring your knees to the floor and slowly lower to the floor. Hug your elbows toward the sides of your body as you lower down. Once you’re on the floor, reach your arms alongside your torso and place your palms on the floor next to your hips. Lift into Locust Pose. Raise your arms and your hands. Keep your palms facing the floor even as your raise your arms and hands. Take a breath or two.
WORST CHATURANGA ALTERNATIVE
6. Knees, Chest, Chin
Lord have mercy, I know that I’m going to catch flack for this, but I don’t think “Knees, Chest, and Chin,” is a good Chaturanga alternative. Here’s the deal: I don’t have any problem with “Knees, Chest, Chin,” except for when it’s used as a preparation or alternative for Chaturanga.
Here’s why: The most common and dangerous mistake made in Chaturanga is lowering the shoulders too far and lifting the bottom too high. This is exactly what happens in “Knees, Chest, Chin.” When the knees are on the floor, this isn’t a problem. Which, again, is why I don’t have any problem with “Knees, Chest, Chin.” But, when “Knees, Chest, Chin” is associated too closely with Chaturanga, it teaches the exact opposite neuro-muscular pattern that one should develop for a healthy Chaturanga. Think about it — and, don’t hate me.
How to: Don’t. ☺ At least not as an alternative or modification for Chaturanga.
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