Let me first say, I absolutely invite arguments. Not on the reg, mind you. But on this topic, oh hell yes. I’ve been teaching for over eleven years. So, I’m experienced, but not nearly as much as many others. I seek the knowledge, perspective, and wisdom of those who’ve been instructing longer and better. I enjoy the fresh eyes and ideas of new teachers as well. We all have something to offer. We arrive at opinions a number of ways:
- Hearing something from a trusted source and accepting the content as true.
- Research. Making sure we have all the facts necessary to develop an informed opinion.
- Listening to analysis of a differing opinion from our own and weighing that with what we currently believe.
I never questioned teaching chaturanga. It’s a staple pose in vinyasa, and if done CORRECTLY, it offers great strengthening opportunities for the triceps and core. It’s also a potentially smooth way to travel into upward facing dog.
I went to Jason Crandell’s workshop in Cleveland, Ohio in November of 2016. That was merely six months ago. To my surprise, I STILL was not doing Chaturanga properly. Jason’s excellent assistant, Mike (dammit, shoulda learned his last name) helped me pull my ribs in toward my lumbar spine and keep them there as I moved through. Game changer. So much harder, and way more effective. I may not be the most gifted chick on the planet at asana, but I ain’t bad. My point is: After teaching for over a decade, and years of practice before that, I still really didn’t get it. Most don’t. Very few do.
So, I came back to Columbus, and began breaking it down every class. I had students doing it on their shins, to which there was quite a bit of resistance. And those who got it were amazed at how hard chaturanga is when done properly, and old habits holding them back were dismissed. And you know what? Almost everyone went right back to doing it the old way because it was easier and what they were used to.
This begs the question, Is a posture useful if so few practitioners are willing to do it correctly, or even able to do it properly? Is it the responsibility of the student to be disciplined or is it more the teacher’s job to insist on it? Is it fine to continue to offer it and witness almost every student doing it wrong and just not worry about it? And how about just not teaching that pose? Huh? What about that opinion? It’s one posture, and it’s heavily discussed for all of the reasons I’ve listed. Are there other ways to get the benefits that chaturanga can potentially offer? Yes, the answer is very much a yes.
Once upon a time, every yoga pose was invented by someone. They didn’t exist until they did. And new poses are made up all the time. I love inventing poses, don’t you? Just because a yoga posture has prevailed doesn’t mean we have to continue to execute it.
Doug Keller wrote an excellent piece for Yoga International titled, ‘How to Avoid Shoulder Injuries in Chaturanga and Plank.’ You can read it here.
The main take away is this quote from Keller’s article, “If your shoulders are incorrectly positioned in weight-bearing poses like chaturanga dandasana, the tendons attaching the biceps to the fronts of the arm bones can be strained and may begin to tear.” Does that scare you? It should. It really should.
Naysayers will retort that the answer is not to avoid the pose, but to execute it correctly. Well no shit! But considering most people can’t, and those who can often won’t, I’ve landed on basically not teaching this pose anymore, not unless the class is on their shins, and we break it down slowly. This also gives me time to offer several adjustments. Most vinyasa classes offer chaturanga at least fifteen times per class. I’ve counted several times, and this is a fair number. That’s fifteen times a student can do the pose incorrectly, greatly increasing the odds of causing a shoulder issue.
So how to strengthen the triceps? There are many ways, and my favorite is to do isometric, non-weight bearing work. Engage the triceps by wrapping the muscles around bones as tightly as you can. You can do this in many postures. Try this sequence: Warrior one, with your arms slightly in front of your face. Imagine you are holding a beach ball (which I now refer to as ‘beach-ball arms). Move into Warrior three, same arms, and land in high crescent lunge, SAME arms. The way I see most students perform chaturanga doesn’t work their triceps anyway, so the pose basically only functions as a travel method into upward facing dog. Moving from plank into up dog is a much better choice if the arm and core strength are not yet present to support chaturanga. Even having the strength to fully support plank requires quite a bit of muscle. It’s the willingness to go back to eventually move forward that can eventually propel a student to a place where chaturanga can be achieved. That, and an attitude of do it right or don’t do it.
Yoga can and will heal. But it has to be approached with the respect anything super powerful deserves.
If you have a comment or question about this article, ask it below or in the forum!
This was written by Lara Falberg from iworkbarefoot.com
Meet Lara Falberg, yoga teacher, novelist, and founder of iworkbarefoot.com, a yoga teaching resource offering verbal cues, mini sequences, class themes, and advice if you want some. She’s been teaching since 2006, and is constantly struck by how our lens of the practice and the teaching of it changes so constantly. Read her novel about the yoga teacher training experience, Yoga Train, or if that’s too big of a commitment, and articles are more your jam, she’s written a fair amount of those too.