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The Expert’s Guide to Chaturanga, Part II

Before we get to the post, a quick, shameless plug for my upcoming trainings. You can join me live at my 500-Hour Yoga Teacher Training in San Francisco, London, or Hong Kong. I also have three separate online teacher trainings, focusing on arm balances & inversions, sequencing, or anatomy.

Chaturanga Pose for Beginners: 5 Poses to Make Your Chaturanga Strong and Steady

Chaturanga is an inextricable component of vinyasa yoga –but it’s an exceptionally difficult pose to pull off with skill and precision, especially for beginning students.

Understanding how to do the pose well and keep your shoulders safe should be the first step to learning Chaturanga Pose for beginners. This is the topic of part one of this series, The Expert’s Guide To Practicing and Teaching Chaturanga: A Shoulder Surgeon’s Perspective on Keeping Your Shoulders Safe in Chaturanga. If you haven’t read this article, definitely check it out.

In Part Two of this series, we’ll focus on the importance of building strength to do the pose. Most of the alignment mistakes that we make in Chaturanga Dandasana happen because we don’t have enough strength to do the posture. So, here are five accessible, strengthening postures that will make your Chaturanga more stable, healthy, and effective – not to mention, easier to execute whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro.

1. Forearm Plank

Forearm Plank Pose | Chaturanga Pose for Beginners: How to Build Strength for Chaturanga Dandasana
WHY THIS WORKS
There are plenty of yoga core strengtheners—and all of them are good preparations for Chaturanga. What makes Forearm Plank so special is that it strengthens the exact combination of core muscles that you use in Chaturanga.

HOW TO
From Plank Pose, lower all the way to the floor. Bring your elbows forward so that they’re directly under your shoulders—as though you were doing Sphinx Pose. As you exhale, straighten your legs, press down into your forearms and lift your torso, pelvis, and thighs off the floor. Take 5-7 breaths before you lower back down. Repeat this a few times.

HOW TO PUT IT INTO PRACTICE
By regularly including Forearm Plank into my practice over the last couple of years, my Chaturanga has become much more solid. Sometimes in my first few Sun Salutations, I’ll substitute Forearm Plank for a Chaturanga to Up Dog. If I want to work a little harder during the middle of my practice, I’ll sneak in a few more Forearm Planks and hold them for 30 seconds.

2. Mini Push-Ups

Mini Push-Up | Chaturanga Pose for Beginners: How to Build Strength for Chaturanga Dandasana
WHY THIS WORKS
Mini push-ups are a simple, straightforward way to strengthen your chest, your arms, and the front of your shoulders. It’s easy to modify the intensity of these strengtheners by bringing your knees to the ground and doing as many repetitions as possible. When you do these, you’ll be in a very similar shape to Chaturanga, so you’ll be developing the coordination of Chaturanga in addition to the shoulder strength.

HOW TO
From Plank Pose, lower your knees to the floor so that you’re on all fours. Slide your hands forward a couple of inches. Bend your elbows and your lower your torso forward and down. At maximum, lower your torso so that your upper-arms are parallel to the floor. Hug your elbows against your ribs as you lower down. To complete the push-up, press your hands into the floor and straighten your arms. Do 3 to 4 push-ups in a row.

HOW TO PUT IT INTO PRACTICE
Just like Forearm Plank, I slip these strengtheners into Sun Salutations. I like to do them early in my sequences in order to warm up my upper-body.

3. Lat Pull Downs

Warrior II Pose with Lat Pulldown | Chaturanga Pose for Beginners: How to Build Strength for Chaturanga Dandasana
WHY THIS WORKS
Strong Latissimus Dorsi muscles are essential for a healthy Chaturanga. These are the muscles that help you squeeze your elbows into the sides of your torso. They also help you draw your shoulders away from your ears in Chaturanga. Doing “lat pull-downs” in standing postures is an effective way to strengthen your lats and bring more awareness to the shoulder actions that your lats generate.

HOW TO
From Warrior II, reach your back arm toward the ceiling. Imagine that you’re going to do a one-armed pull-up with your back arm. Bend your elbow against imaginary resistance and pull it down until it is in line with your shoulder. Imagine someone is pushing your elbow up and you are strongly holding it in place. Stay here for a couple breaths, then do the pose on the other side.

HOW TO PUT IT INTO PRACTICE
Although it’s unconventional–and you might look a little bit like He-Man (or She-Ra) flexing your muscles–incorporating lat pull-downs into your standing poses is hugely effective. I incorporate this work in standing postures, especially Warrior I and II, every time I do shoulder-focused classes or workshops.

4. Locust Pose

Locust Pose | Chaturanga Pose for Beginners: How to Build Strength for Chaturanga Dandasana
WHY THIS WORKS
Locust Pose is in my top three most valuable yoga postures because it does such an exceptional job strengthening the entire back body. Specifically for Chaturanga Dandasana, the posture strengthens the spinal muscles, rhomboids, lats, and lower and middle trapezius. When you turn your palms down, you also strengthen the external rotators of your shoulder that will help you keep your humerus bone in the desired position for Chaturanga.

HOW TO
Lie face down with your arms straight by your sides and your palms facing down. Inhaling, lift your upper body, arms, and legs off the floor. Keep your palms facing down as you raise your arms. Draw your shoulders away from your ears and feel the entire length of your back body working. Take 3-4 breaths before lowering to the floor. Repeat this 2-4 times.

HOW TO PUT IT INTO PRACTICE
I incorporate Locust during two phases of my practice: I substitute Locust for Chaturanga and Upward Dog during my Sun Salutations and I put them at the beginning of backbending progressions. Locust is a great pose to warm up your back body prior to doing deeper backbends like Camel Pose and Urdhva Dhanurasana, Upward Bow.

5. Low Cobra

Low Cobra Pose Bjuganasana | Chaturanga Pose for Beginners: How to Build Strength for Chaturanga Dandasana
WHY THIS WORKS
Similar to Locust, Low Cobra strengthens your spinal muscles, rhomboids, lats, and lower and middle trapezius. Low Cobra also reinforces the actions of Chaturanga in your entire shoulder girdle. It’s truly the perfect strengthener and preparatory pose for Chaturanga.

HOW TO
Lie face down and place your palms on the floor next to your shoulders. Align your fingers with the bottom of your armpits. Squeeze your elbows against your sides and lift the front of your shoulders away from the floor. Press your hands in to the floor and slightly raise your chest and frontal ribs away from the ground. Remember, you’re focusing on strength, not flexibility, so don’t try to go very deep into Cobra. Keep pulling your shoulder blades down your back and hugging your elbows into the side of your body. Take 3-4 breaths before lowering down. Repeat this process a few times.

HOW TO PUT IT INTO PRACTICE
You can include Low Cobra in the exact same places that you included Locust.

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Yoga Pose Notebook: Boat Pose (Paripurna Navasana)

Paripurna Navasana | Jason Crandell Vinyasa Yoga Method

HOW TO USE THIS PARIPURNA NAVASANA BLOG

There are 3 ways to use this blog:
1. You can simply practice Navasana using the illustration above.
2. You can learn the steps get into the posture in the “How To” section.
3. Or you can geek out on the sequencing and anatomy details by skipping down to Part II.

GETTING INTO PARIPURNA NAVASANA (BOAT POSE)

I don’t like to admit it, but I’m a pretty nostalgic guy. So, when I look back at the years I spent practicing Ashtanga Yoga, I’ve got nothing but good things to say. Wellll…except for that point where you repeat Paripurna Navasana to Tolasana, over and over again. If you practiced Ashtanga Yoga, this series also got you every time. Right? Admit it, you’ll feel better.

I may have loathed the Navasana series, but I’ve always respected the pose. The posture simultaneously strengthens your hip-flexors, abdominals, and adductors—not to mention your resolve. If you’re looking for one posture that works your entire core, strengthens your body for arm balances and inversions, and builds heat in a very short period of time, you’ve found your match.

One Quick Tip About Paripurna Navasana:
I instructed my students to sit on the front edge of their sitting bones in this pose for a decade. I’ve long since changed my tune because no one—I mean no one—is actually on the front of their sitting bones in this posture. You don’t want to rock too far back, but if you look at the image below you’ll see that the sitting bones are shaped like a rocking horse. In order for you to truly be on the front of your sitting bones, you’d actually be in the inferior pubic rami, your pelvis would be rotated forward and your spine would be vertical. That’s not happening in Navasana for anyone. More accurately, you’re sitting just behind the center of your sitting bones and the front of your tailbone. Check out the little arrow on the diagram below. That’s where you’re sitting.

sitting bones

If you want to learn more, join me live at my 500-hour Yoga Teacher Training  Certification Program or join me online for my Sequencing and Anatomy Online Courses.

WARM UP

Paripurna Navasana strongly contracts your abdominals and hip-flexors. Secondarily, it engages your inner legs and lower back. To warm up your center before doing Navasana, practice “core connector” (see Abs Reboot if you’re not already familiar with this pose). You can also do a few Sun Salutations to get your blood moving.

HOW TO DO PARNIPURNA NAVASANA (BOAT POSE)

Navasana is a demanding pose, but it’s relatively simple. Here are the steps:
1. Start by sitting on your mat with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Lift your heels off the floor and press your toes into the floor. Imagine you’re trying to pull your mat toward you with your tiptoes. Feel your hip flexors begin to kick into gear.

2. As you hip flexors fire up, draw your lower belly toward your spine. Lengthen up through your spine and lift your chest.

3. Keeping your chest lifted and broad, raise your shins until they’re parallel to the floor.

4. Squeeze your inner legs together to engage your adductors. Reach your arms forward so that they’re parallel to the floor. If you want to challenge yourself, you can reach your arms toward the ceiling.

5. Continue working with your knees bent and your shins parallel to the floor. Or, intensify the posture by straightening your legs. If possible, elevate your legs so that your toes are the same height as your eyes.

6. Refine the posture with the cues in the infographic.

7. After 3-5 breaths in the pose, slowly lower your legs and rest. Repeat 3 to 5 times.

IF I CAN’T DO PARIPURNA NAVASANA YET, WHAT SHOULD I DO INSTEAD?

If you can’t do Navasana, you need to work on other core-strengthening postures that are more accessible. Please check out the reclined core postures in this article. And, remember that you can always keep your knees bent and your fingertips on the floor in Navasana if you need more support.

PART II: ANATOMY AND SEQUENCING FOR NAVASANA

WHICH MUSCLES DOES NAVASANA STRENGTHEN?

If you want to see some visuals and understand your core more completely, check out my Illustrated Guide to Yoga and Your Core, Part 1 & Part 2.

Your hip flexors
Your hip flexors (specifically your illiopsoas and rectus femoris) bear the brunt of this posture. The higher you lift your legs and the more vertical you make your torso, the more your hip flexors work.

Your abdominals
Although your abdominals play second fiddle to your hip flexors in Navasana, they are still chugging along. While all of your abdominals are firing away in this pose, your transversus abdominis has the biggest job. It’s responsible for the “navel toward spine” action and it’s working hard to your torso stable and upright.

Your inner legs
Your adductor muscles are working to keep your inner legs squeezed together. To strengthen this group even more, experiment with squeezing a block between your inner legs in this pose.

Your spinal muscles
Your spinal muscles, especially the erector spinae group, are engaging to help your torso stay upright. They’re working with your abdominals to maintain the natural curves of your spine.

SEQUENCING FOR PARIPURNA NAVASANA

You can sprinkle Navasana nearly anywhere throughout your practice and classes. Practicing Navasana early in the sequence helps students warm up and connect to their center. Practicing Navasana toward the end of the sequence can help ensure that you and your students feel physically satiated—especially if you want to create a more demanding experience. If you feature Navasana in your practice and do several of them, be sure to include a few hip flexor and quad openers afterward. This will help re-lengthen these muscles after working to fatigue.

WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT ANATOMY, SEQUENCING, AND YOGA TEACHER TRAINING?

I offer both online trainings and live, in-the-flesh ones around the world. Here are a few of the courses that are currently open. (For a full schedule, go to my Schedule page):

Essential Anatomy E-Course
The Art of Yoga Sequencing E-Course
500-Hour Training in San Francisco (2016)
100-Hour Training in London (2016)

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Abs Reboot: Four Creative Core Yoga Poses

Lolasana

When you regularly practice poses that strengthen your core, you’ll feel more stable in your practice and more at ease in your everyday life. When I skip my core strengtheners, I notice that it’s hard for me to sit up straight and my back gets tired much more quickly as I’m pecking away at my computer.

I look forward to doing core poses more if I have some creative options in my back pocket – and that’s what this post will give you.

In terms of where to put these in a sequence: Core yoga poses are flexible. You can use the poses below as a way to warm-up at the beginning of a practice. You can place them just after your Sun Salutations, standing poses, and backbends. Or you can sprinkle them throughout the sequence to stay connected to your center during the entire class.

(If you want to a clearer understanding of what we mean by “core” and how it all fits together, be sure to read Jason’s Yoga and Your Core, Parts I & II.)

Yoga Poses for Core Strength

Below are four of my favorite go-tos:

Core Connector Pose

Core Connector

The Core Connector pose is a great multi-tasker: When you squeeze the block, you engage your inner legs. Engaging your inner-legs (your adductors), will help you fire your pelvic floor muscles and your abdominals—especially our transversus abdominis. Typically the inner thigh muscles are weak and underutilized. This pose tones them and teaches you to move your thighbones out of external rotation and into a more neutral position.

Continue reading Read More > >

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Essential Sequence: Parsva Bakasana (Side Crow)

I love creating sequences for Parsva Bakasana. I always have. Since the posture contains so many components, there are countless ways I can take the class. I can focus on a sequence of upper body and core strengthening postures before tackling Parsva Bakasana. Or, I teach a practice full of deep, detoxifying twists before guiding my students into this peak pose. Other times, like in the sequence below, I’ll create a more balanced approach where each of the posture’s components is equally prepared.

Sequencing for Parsva Bakasana is also deeply satisfying because a sound, logical progression can help students break through and do the posture for the first time. Confusion is one of the biggest hurdles to doing this pose well—-or, at all. Often times students are physically capable to do the pose but struggle because they don’t know the building blocks. A good sequence demystifies the actions and helps you feel your way into the pose.

Since Parsva Bakasana is the foundation for more advanced arm balances such as Dwi Pada Koundinyasana and Eka Pada Koundinyasana I, it’s a nice posture to emphasize in mixed level classes because you can encourage the more seasoned students to work on these variations.

Here are a couple of thoughts about the practice before you begin:

Sequence Focus: Parsva Bakasana requires core strength, upper body strength, hip flexibility, and spinal flexibility. The practice begins with core strengthening postures, then transitions into a progression of twisting standing postures. The standing postures I chose will help open your hips and prepare your spinal muscles for the twisting component of Parsva Bakasana. Finally, the posture hits its’ peak with Bakasana and Parsva Bakasana. If Bakasana is a challenging pose for you, please check out my Bakasana sequence. Take your time, be patient, and enjoy yourself—-even if you struggle a little.

Before You Begin: For a longer, more intense practice, you can begin with Sun Salutations. Feel free to include as many lunge salutations, Surya Namaksar A, and Surya Namaskar B as you’d like. Otherwise, you can dive into the practice below.

After You Finish: This sequence is predominantly twists. Twists prepare the body for forward bends and backbends, so, really, you can go either way after you’ve concluded Parsva Bakasana. If you want to do forward bends, Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose), Upavistha Konasana (Wide Angle Pose), and Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend) are a good bet. If you want to do backbends, I recommend a Low Lunge to open the front of your thigh before transitioning into a few rounds of Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose) and Urdvha Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose).

You could take a few minutes in seated meditation before calling it a day and resting in Savasana.

Parsva Bakasana Sequence | Jason Crandell Vinyasa Yoga Method

Want to practice this sequence at home? When you sign up for our newsletter, we’ll send you FREE print-friendly PDF download for you to keep.

{illustrations by MCKIBILLO}

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Essential Sequence: Two Core Yoga Routines

The holidays invite us to settle in, slow down, and spend time savoring the most essential elements of our lives. They also include planes, trains, automobiles, overeating, in-laws, expectations, and time spent on a completely different schedule. With everything that the holidays involve, it’s even more important to stay connected to your body and breath. To do this, you may need to adjust your expectations during this time of year. My recommendation is to keep your practice simple and straightforward. Focus on simple, essential postures that help you stay focused, grounded, and present.

I’ve created two short and sweet practices that will help you connect to your core. The two sequences represent a balanced approach to working with your center. One is a mellow sequence that will help soothe your digestive system. The other is a quick practice to fire up, stimulate, and strengthen your midsection. Both practices are effective, quick, and simple. In fact, they’re simple enough that you may want to get your friends and family off the couch and share your practice with them!

TWO CORE YOGA SEQUENCES

Core Yoga Sequence: Sequence to Soothe Digestion | Jason Crandell Vinyasa Yoga Method

There are many ways you can use these core yoga sequences. You can do either sequence on it’s own, you can combine them for a longer sequence, or you can use them as inspiration to get you on the mat and then add as many postures as you like. Please feel free to explore and experiment. For all of the yoga teachers out there, challenge yourself to create an entire practice for your students from these mini-sequences.

The core sequence includes variations and poses you might not have seen before, so I’ve included short instructions beneath the graphic.

Let me know how it goes for you and Happy Thanksgiving!

Core Yoga Sequence: Quick Core Yoga Sequence | Jason Crandell Vinyasa Yoga Sequence

1) Core Connector: Squeeze a block (or folded pillow) between your inner thighs to engage your inner leg muscles (adductors). Keeping the natural curve of your lower back, lift your feet an inch or two away from the ground. If you lift your feet too high, the posture will become much easier. Gently draw your navel toward your spine and stay for several breaths. Repeat a few times.

2) Reclined Side Crow: Side Crow (aka Side Crane) on your back is a killer abdominal strengthener. Start on your back. Start by lifting your head and chest off the ground and drawing your knees toward your chest. Twist your torso, reaching both arms toward the outside of your left knee. Stay for a few breaths and repeat on the second side. Repeat a few times.

3) Reclined Handstand: Start on your back. Lift your head, upper back, and legs off the floor. Raise your arms slightly off the ground and reach them away from you. Squeeze your legs together and draw your navel toward your spine. Stay until you collapse into a puddle on the ground.

4) Forearm Plank: Forearm Plank works your core much more strongly than regular plank. Start in Sphinx Pose with your elbows directly under your shoulders. Tuck your toes, then slowly lift your torso, hips, and thighs away from the floor. Stay here for a breath or two, then lift and straighten your knees. Stay for 5-10 breaths before lowering back into Sphinx pose. Repeat two more times.

5) Paripurna Navasana: Sit with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Root down through the front of your sitting bones, lengthen your spine, and lift your feet until your shins are parallel to the floor. Continue to lift your lower back and lengthen your spine while you straighten your knees. If straightening your knees strains your lower back or tilts you backward, bend your knees. Take a few breaths here, then bring your toes back to the floor. Repeat two more times.

6) Ardha Navasana: This is a much harder version of Navasana. If it stresses on your lower back, simply repeat Navasana with bent knees. To begin, sit on your mat with your legs straight. Hold the outside of your thighs with your hands. Tuck your tailbone to rotate your pelvis back and slowly lower your back toward the floor. As you lower your torso, slightly lift your legs. Unlike Navasana, you’re slightly rounding your back toward the floor and allowing your chest to sink. Feel free to intensify the pose by interlacing your fingers behind your head. Take a few breaths before releasing and relaxing your whole body into the ground.

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