Core Strength: Chaturanga

See? I have not forgotten about core stuff, I promise. I think it’s partly, now that I’m reaccustomed to writing (things other than hall passes) on a regular basis, it’s easier for me to branch off onto additional topics. Which is likely a good thing, as long as I can follow through on other strands I’ve started.

In terms of strands, this is a continuation of the core series, with a current focus on the multifidus muscle group, one of the deepest layers of low back muscles. This group of muscles co-contracts with the transverse abdominals in order to stabilize the spine prior to limb movement — limb movement like bending the elbows while pressing back through the heels to lower from plank into chaturanga.

I know I originally said I was going to look at plank variations — and I fully intend to do so in a future post — but then I thought about it. While plank is a standard in a lot of power and vinyasa yoga sequences, the variations I’m thinking about are far less common. Chaturanga, on the other hand, follows high plank on a regular basis, so I probably should discuss how core strength and spinal stability work in this pose.

Like plank, in chaturanga, the core muscles are working against gravity to hold the body in a straight line. Unlike plank, chaturanga can be more difficult — particularly on the upper body — because it doesn’t involve stacking the joints of the wrists, elbows, and shoulders. Additionally, while plank is generally held as a still pose, in practice, chaturanga often involves a controlled lowering into the pose as well as the final position itself.

I’d like to say that when I first started practicing chaturanga, I encountered some uncomfortable joint problems, but that is a lie. When I first started practicing chaturanga, I didn’t have either the upper body or core strength to do it, so I modified with my knees on the ground. After that — when I started gradually incorporating straight line chaturangas into my practice — then I encountered some uncomfortable joint problems. Essentially, my alignment was off, taking the work of the pose out of my muscles and placing it into the joints of my shoulders and wrists.

Sadie Nardini explains the physics better than I can:

To be honest, I was never concerned about the “scooch of shame.” I did, however, appreciate the realization that if the muscles start to get sore, this can be a good thing since it implies strengthening — but if the joints start to get sore, this suggests they’re taking the strain my muscles should be bearing — particularly because this can be applied beyond chaturanga.

Also, FYI — When I was relearning the chaturanga alignment, I did alter my vinyasas for quite a while (maybe 3 months of almost daily practice) while I was exploring this new positioning. Not only did I not lower as far — as Sadie’s video mentioned — but I also stopped jumping back into chaturanga and started stepping back into it again, so I could lower with more awareness and control. It was a good lesson in learning that the “flashiest” version of a pose — or the expression that requires the most strength/flexibility/whatever — is not necessarily the version that deepens the mental or subtle aspects of my practice.

I do not claim that the shape I create is a “textbook” version of chaturanga or one that should be imitated by others. But I can now show you what a fluid, safe, and comfortable (well, the muscles get tired toward the end of my practice, but not the joints) chaturanga looks like on me:

I realize that it looks like I’m lowering my shoulders below my elbows, so that my elbows are going past 90 degrees. I can’t tell if this is due to camera angle (which is not parallel to my body or mat) or because this is what’s actually happening. What I can say is that I practiced for about 90 minutes the day I filmed this — and have continued to practice in this manner for a couple of months afterward — while feeling zero chaturanga stress on either my shoulders or wrists.

Still feel plenty of work in my biceps, thighs, and core though. Speaking of which: for folks who are wanting chaturanga modifications, I will be addressing that next. And I don’t just mean “next time I talk about core again.” I mean the very next time I post. ;)


I'm here. I like stuff. Some other stuff, I like less.

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Posted in ahimsa, asana, core, swadyaya
One comment on “Core Strength: Chaturanga
  1. Great technical details here. I’ve also started slowing down on my transitions bewteen poses, and I’ll be sure to pay extra special attention towards my chaturanga. Thanks for the info!

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