The Expert’s Guide to Chaturanga, Part I

A Shoulder Surgeon’s Perspective on Keeping Your Shoulders Safe in Chaturanga Dandasana

Chaturanga Dandasana Jason Crandell

I’ve had exceptional yoga teachers over the years, but I also love to work with medical professionals and physical therapists to get their thoughts about body mechanics, alignment instructions, injury management, and injury prevention. Paul Roache, MD is a board certified orthopedic surgeon (with a sub-specialty in shoulder surgery) who I’ve worked with for more than 10 years. Paul has been my student and assisted my classes over the years, and we’ve taught trainings and workshops together, worked with private clients to manage their shoulder injuries, and created an online anatomy program called, Essential Yoga Anatomy with Yogaglo.

Paul has not only refined my thoughts about shoulder mechanics and shoulder alignment, he’s done something much more important: he’s broken down why particular shoulder alignment patterns are so important and helped me understand which parts of the shoulder are most likely to be overly stressed when they’re misaligned in postures, especially Chaturanga Dandasana.

Chaturanga Dandasana Shoulder Alignment Tips


Although Chaturanga is demanding, keeping your shoulders safe is relatively simple. In fact, for students with otherwise healthy shoulders, there are two ways to protect your shoulders from injury in this pose.

First, make sure that your shoulders don’t move into extension. Instead, keep your elbows in line with the side of your torso. If you lower your torso — or dip your shoulders — too low, your elbows will move behind your body and put your shoulders at greater risk. Second, firmly squeeze your elbows against the sides of your body, rather than allowing them to separate away from your torso. The photos below show you what these dynamics look like.

Chattering Done Correctly and Incorrectly



If you want a quick, easy solution to keeping your shoulders happier and healthier in Chaturanga, there you have it: Maintaining shoulder stability in yoga postures is the most effective way to protect your shoulders from injury. Hug your elbows into your side-body and don’t go so low that your shoulders move into extension. Those are the doctor’s orders. If you want to nerd-out a little and dig deeper into the rationale for these actions, stay tuned — it gets very interesting (if you find this kind of thing interesting).

If you don’t do the two actions above in Chaturanga, your shoulders will be less stable and more vulnerable. To understand why this is the case, we need to compare the two major ball and socket joints of your body—your shoulders and your hips.

Your hip socket is a deep cup made almost entirely of bone. The ball (head of the femur) sits almost completely in this cup of bone. Since the ball sits deeply inside the cup of bone, it’s inherently stable. This means that the femur is not dependent on the surrounding muscles to stay in the socket.

Whereas your hip joint is inherently stable, your shoulder’s ball and socket joint is inherently unstable. Your shoulder’s ball and socket joint (the gleno-humeral joint, or GH) has a deep socket on the shoulder blade, but the boney cup of the socket is very shallow. In fact, the majority of the socket is made of ligaments and muscles.

In your hips, the cup that your femur sits in is comprised of bone. Your shoulders are different. The bottom of the cup that the humerus sits in is bone, but the remainder of the cup is comprised of muscles and ligaments. The ball requires the muscles, ligaments (and several other factors) to work together to keep the ball in the socket. This means that the ball can move outside of the socket if the surrounding muscles, ligaments (and other factors) don’t do their job properly.

You can see these distinctions clearly in the images below. You’ll see that the head of the femur is entirely encircled by bone. Comparatively, you’ll see that the humerus has much more shallow contact with the scapula.

Front of the Hip Joint

Front of the Shoulder Joint


Remember, maintaining shoulder stability is the most important key to keeping your shoulders safe in Chaturanga. So, what are the most common situations in Chaturanga that decrease shoulder stability and leave the shoulder vulnerable to injury?

1) When the elbows move away from the body.

2) When the torso lowers below your elbows and your shoulders move into extension.

3) A combination of moving the elbows away from the body and lowering the torso below the elbows.

So, when you do any of the three actions above, it decreases shoulder stability, which can lead to a host of problems including impingement, rotator cuff strain, inflammation and more.

On the other hand, when you keep your torso level with your elbows and hug your elbows against your torso, you maximize the stability of your shoulder joint. These are simple enough concepts, but they are challenging to perform.

Of course, developing the strength to maintain these shoulder positions in Chaturanga is incredibly difficult. And, students often need good alternatives to Chaturanga —especially if they’re not strong enough to do the pose or if they’re managing a shoulder or wrist issue. I’ll tackle these topics in Part II & III of this series (sign up for our newsletter

so that you don’t miss out when they go up). In the meantime, keep your shoulders healthy!


  1. Hi Jason, your anatomy info and articles are always so insightful. Of course anatomy and yoga info can be conflicting so I’m curious to know from someone with as much expertise as yourself how we make sense of a video explanation like Adam Bellangers. He’s got an anatomy vid that speaks directly to Chaturanga and shoulder anatomy and injury that suggests not hugging elbows in at all. I’m not asking you to be critical of his video of course, both explanations are extremely thought provoking and helpe to continue exploring. But I’m curious for your thoughts on it to help us as teachers continue to learn. Thanks! Tyla.

    • HAH! I was just wondering the same thing as I’m a student of Adam and his explanation makes sense to me too. I’m also teaching an ashtanga style class and want to know the safest chaturanga.

    • Hey Tyla,

      Although spoken in a clear and convincing way, the video that you referenced above has significant inaccuracies and the medical evidence that exists on the topic (it’s sourced in a comment below), refutes the primary thesis of this video. This article is written by Paul Roache, a Dr. of Orthopedic Medicine with a specialty in Shoulder Surgery, strongly refutes the videos claims and logic. So do I. Rather than present a direct refutation of the video, though, I’d prefer to focus on the content of this article. The primary thing that this article focuses on–and the video excludes–is the important of keeping the ball and socket stable when bearing the stresses of chaturanga. Keeping the arms strongly adducted increases stability (as referenced in the medical study below) and significantly decreases the risk of injury in the posture. One thing you can do to test this is very simple: sitting where you are, recreate the shape of chaturanga in your upper-body. bend your elbows 90 degrees so that your elbows are close to your bottom ribs and your forearms and palms are facing forward. Firm your shoulder blades against your back and broaden your chest. Now, hug your arms firmly against the side of your torso. Feel the relative degree of stability that you experience in your entire upper body. Now, as the video suggest and we disagree with, separate your elbows away from your body and feel how much strength and stability you lose in your upper body. This should help answer your question!

      • But maybe could you go on that YouTube video anonymously and refute it Cause we’re thirsty for the truth out here man. Thanks Jason

      • Hi Jason,
        thanks for sharing all of your knowledge! I think the order in which you describe the cuing above is really important as to how it is interpreted by students. You are clear to say “firm your shoulder blades against your back and broaden your chest” before “hugging the arms in”. When a teacher focuses solely on hugging the arm bones in without the former, I have seen it create a collapse between the shoulder blades, ribs thrusting forward (thoracic spine out of alignment) and sometimes subtle (or not so subtle) winging of the scapula. The piece of the video referred to above (Adam’s video) that I think makes sense when you have someone who is focusing too much on adduction and compromising other areas of alignment is finding a sense of dragging the the hands/elbows/upper arms straight back while sliding the upper arms against the ribs. I’m also curious if you think an individual student’s build makes a difference in how this cuing comes to life in their body?

        • Thanks for reading, Kerry. Thanks for pointing out that the order of instructions matters. And, as always, instructions should be given in pairs in order to create balanced, oppositional motions. There are a few pieces of Adam’s video that are indeed correct and I agree with the point that you’re referring too above. That said, the point that he makes is not nearly as important as the action of humeral adduction for GH stability. There is actually tons of data on this, which I’ve posted in the comment stream a few comments below. I don’t think that a student’s build makes a significant difference with regards to the fundamental actions and understanding that keeps the GH stable in weight bearing positions. Body composition may affect the degree of abduction, but not the general need for abduction. Thanks again for reading and commenting.

  2. Awesome read and so important for our shoulder health… Thank you! My hubby and I take your classes on YogaGlo, your our fave teacher! Love your alignment guidance, flows & fun wit! 🙂

    With gratitude,


  3. Will you also address the safe way to lower from chaturanga to the floor?

    • The simplest answer is to bring your knees to floor first and roll down from your thighs to your hips to your torso. Good luck!

  4. Hmm… you say that we lose shoulder stability when our elbows leave our sides. This makes little sense to me, either theoretically or in practice. Can you back up that statement?

    • Hey Jack,

      My apologies for the delay, I’ve been teaching an intensive in New York. I’m sorry that the shoulders still make little sense to you in chaturanga–but, I understand, they’re complicated. With regards to your question, yes, I can substantiate the statement that adducted arms are more stable than abducted arms.

      First, this article is co-written with a shoulder expert and long-time yoga practitioner. He is Board Certified in Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine, with a sub-specialty in shoulder surgery. This is his strong opinion and he qualifies as an expert in the field.

      Second, here’s a summary of the definitive article on this topic: “The adducted hanging-arm position had the highest stability ratio in all directions, compared to the abducted shoulder.” J Bone Joint Surg Am 2001; 83:1062-1069
      Halder AM, et al: Effects of the Glenoid Labrum and Glenohumeral Abduction on Stability of the Shoulder Joint Through Concavity-Compression.

      Chaturanga falls into the “hanging arm position” category–This simply means that the arm is next to the body.

      I hope this helps.


        • Yes. The video has several substantial inaccuracies. This article and the comments above address a more sound approach.

  5. Thank you, thank you and thank you for your clear and meaningful instructions! My students and I thank you from our healthy shoulders!

  6. I’m currently a athlete and my mom constantly begged me to do yoga with her, I always refused. I said yes one day and love it. iv lost 9 pounds in 2 weeks and got a whole lot flexible.

  7. Hi Jason/ Andrea Is there an easier way of finding all the pose articles, sequences, pose notebooks, I find it a long job sometimes to find ones I have seen previously. As they are note all listed on the right column and clicking on the ones under the article doesn’t always bring up the one I’m looking for

    • Thanks for being a reader, Jackie! We’ll definitely restructure the look and feel of our blog at some point within the year since we’ve grown so much. For now, remember that there’s a “search” bar on the right hat works pretty well. Thanks again! -Jason

  8. Good article to keep it simple… Would be great for another on implications for shoulder safety in other strong yoga poses like pincha and koundy as a couple of example

    • Ohhh I like that suggestion. Jason looks at all the comments so he’ll see it, too. Thanks for your feedback! Andrea

      • Check out Michael Stone’s online course on his website called The New Wave of Yoga. He teaches all the shoulder/arm positions for yoga poses. Excellent course.

  9. I’ve been enjoying your articles but I have a question. As an athlete we’re taught to hug our elbows to our ribs as we lower to the floor. When we’re modifying our pushups we do them on our knees. Eventually I want to get beyond the modification and of course, many people can do that already. Which, if I understand the article correctly, takes our shoulders into extension. So how do you do a pushup if you can’t take your chest to the floor? Thanks!

    • I’d discourage you from bringing your chest all the way to the floor when you’re doing push-ups, Danette. I know that they’re typically taught this way, but, again, I’d encourage you not to lower the chest to the floor.

  10. Thank you.

    • You’re welcome, John!

  11. Great blog post! I have wanting to strengthen my arms via yoga poses.

    • am wanting…not have. My bad


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