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The Expert’s Guide to Chaturanga, Part III

The Best (and Worst) Modifications and Alternatives for Chaturanga

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 2 of this series, 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.


1. Chaturanga with a bolster
Chaturanga on 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.


2. Chaturanga with a block
Chaturanga on 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.


3. Chaturanga with a strap around your elbows
Chaturanga with a strap
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.


4. Chaturanga with a knee or two on the floor
Chaturanga with a knee 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.


5. Locust with your palms facing the floor
Locust Pose
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.


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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  1. I suffered for years with a rotator cuff injury brought on by doing Chatauranga wrong (it was never properly taught in class). During vinyasas, I had to make up my own modifications. I like #5, however lowering to the floor from Plank would still put painful pressure on my shoulder, even bringing the knees to the floor first. Instead, I’d bring knees and forearms to the floor, then extend my legs along the mat and gently lower onto my belly.

    1. Excellent adaptation. And, you’re definitely right that there are several shoulder instances where lowering to the floor is painful–and, sometimes not possible. Glad that you were able to sort it out!

  2. Thank you Jason for mentioning knees, chest, chin. I think it’s a terrible option for beginners and very hard to do well. I learned that from you many years ago in a ‘how to teach beginners’ workshop and have felt very strongly about it ever since….thank you!!

    1. I agree completely –and knees-chest-chin also reinforces the “head forward” posture (which indicates a lack of support in the Deep Front Line myofascial meridian: specifically longus coli and captis) –not something for beginners –i don’t teach it until chaturanga is solid… so usually not until the end of a 200-hour teacher training!! Thanks Jason.

  3. Very interesting, and a much needed series. Chaturanga has always been this fundamental yet somewhat elusive pose, both in teaching and in practice. I never thought of Knees/Chest/Chin as a poor alternative or prep for Chaturanga, but I completely see your point. I am curious, however, as to how you could help new students “flow through their vinyasa” yet still practice safe and effective chatarungas. In other words, how would you integrate some of the above into an actual vinyasa practice? I am thinking the knees lowered is the best option, but then as you lower down before up dog would you not have your elbows above your shoulders? Again, thanks for the great series.

    1. The next article in the series is going to be about how challenging chaturanga is to teach–and, what teachers can do to teach the posture more effectively. Chaturanga isn’t just tough to do, it’s incredibly tough to teach. And, you hit the nail on the head with your observations. Please stay tuned for my thoughts in the next round, Heather!

      1. I would also like to understand how to safely jump back into Chaturanga. In some yoga classes, I see certain students jump more up first and then back. I asked a student how to do it and they said to putting more weight into their arms instead of their legs and then landing one foot first. Is this method the safe and the right way to jump into Chaturanga?

  4. Thank you for I, II and III! Knees/chest/chin has never felt quite right to me, as an alternative to chatarunga or even on its own. Too much dumping in the lower back and strain on the neck if your not familiar on safe alignment and proper muscle engagement.
    All your modifications are great for teachers and students!

  5. Thank you for this informative series. I’ve recently come back to a daily yoga practice and noticed that on days when I did many sun salutations, my right shoulder would often feel displaced and painful. Now I know why! I’m looking forward to trying the modifications and using the technique of pressing my arms to my torso. This series came at the perfect time for me. Thank you!

  6. Jason, thank you for this excellent advice. I agree with you and everyone else who commented about knees-chest-chin as being an ineffective alternative to Chaturanga. I have a question for you: What do you think of the practice of lowering the body all the way down to the floor in one line, then pressing all the way back up to plank? This is something to which I have been recently introduced, and although I think it’s sometimes fun to try, I wonder about the health of my shoulder joints when I lower all the way down with my elbows naturally ending up higher than my shoulders. Thanks in advance for your input.

    1. Hi Katia – This wouldn’t be my preference. Check out the first article in the chaturanga series and you’ll see the Dr.’s recommendations about how far to lower down. It would be much more sound to keep your knees on the floor and do a 1/2 push up. Again, check out the first article and you’ll learn why this is my preference.

  7. If you are looking for an extra challenge, keep one leg suspended off the ground as you perform Chaturanga. Make sure that if you are doing Three-Limbed Chaturanga, you practice on both sides evenly.

  8. Hi Jason! Thank you so much for making this available for free- simply amazing!
    One question in regards to offering the option to bringing your knees to the earth: is it OK to teach “option to drop the knees, rock forward, and lower all the way down” (of course, this is different than knees, chest, chin). I wanted clarification on if it is OK to lower all the way down when dropping the knees?

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