Updated: Feb 15, 2021
I think of this as a bit of an ego pose. It's 25% of a Vinyasa and we do lots of Vinyasas in a Vinyasa Flow class so if we regularly practice Vinyasa Flow yoga, we all must do perfect Chaturangas and do all of them in every class. Right?
Chaturanga is not an easy pose. It requires a lot of shoulder strength to do it safely. The shoulder is a relatively unstable joint and it's too easy to 'hang out' in the shoulder joint which can lead to injury, especially if you do a lot of them. And I am speaking from personal experience......I like to make all of the common yoga mistakes so you don't have to.
So I know my pose isn't 100% perfect in this photo. I could straighten my spine more and try and get my body weight a little further forward but this is where I am with the pose right now and trying to hold it whilst pressing your camera remote is not the easiest thing!
The key starting point (apart from having the strength needed) is a strong plank pose since we go into Chaturanga from plank in Vinyasa Flow yoga. If your alignment isn't great in plank then it's not going to be great in Chaturanga so spend some time thinking about your plank pose.
Make sure your wrists are directly under your shoulders in plank and focus on achieving a straight line down the length of the body from head to heels whilst also engaging pretty much everything and thinking about drawing everything in to the mid-line. So engage your thighs, your glutes (bum muscles), your core (not just your abs) and your lats (latissmus dorsi muscles; the large v-shaped muscles of the back that protect and stabilise your spine while providing shoulder and back strength). And try not to lift or dip the hips.
From plank shift your weight forward so you come further forward onto your toes and bring your chest forward; your shoulders will be in front of your wrists. Then slowly bend the elbows to lower so that your wrist creases are under your elbows. Don't worry about how low you go; that's not the aim of the pose and sinking too low is more likely to push the weight into the shoulder joint.
And this is what is often seen but a version that may well lead to shoulder joint issues if done a lot.
If you feel really comfortable in Chaturanga and think that you can hold it for a minute or more, I'd encourage you to check your alignment to make sure you're not pushing too much into your shoulders.
Other things to watch out for are lifting or dipping the hips (note my comment above about checking your hip position in plank) and the elbows splaying out to the side. This isn't a traditional push up, you want your elbows to brush your ribs as you lower. If your elbows splay out you're using your chest muscles whereas we want to use those much smaller tricep muscles.
So if you don't currently have the strength to be able to do a full Chaturanga how do you build the strength in your yoga practice to be able to progress?
If you modify the pose and take some of the intensity out of it you will build strength whereas if you continue to try and do it when you're not ready you won't progress. Hence why I think of it as an ego pose because it's human nature to want to do the full expression of the pose, particularly when it's such a common pose. But I really encourage people to think about whether dropping to the knees, bending the elbows just a little bit, or trying just one good form full Chaturanga in each practice is a more appropriate choice to make.
If you are going to drop to your knees (or even just one knee) keep a straight line from your hips to your head and lower all the way to the floor. I'd then recommend cobra rather than upward facing dog as the next pose in your Vinyasa.
A quick Google will throw up drills you can do to work to a full, off the knees, push up (and from there Chaturanga) which generally involve working off an incline: starting with a wall, and gradually reducing the incline as you build strength. This will be more effective in building the necessary strength more quickly than dropping to the knees but of course if you're happy dropping to your knees and aren't working to the full pose, drop to your knees.
And if you want to stay on the toes but you can't come down to a 90 degree bend in your elbow yet, stay with a micro-bend and work on increasing the depth of the bend over a number of weeks (or months).