5 Chaturanga Prep Poses That Look Nothing Like Chaturanga
Are you challenged by the Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)? It makes a prominent appearance in many yoga classes, so honing your Chaturanga skills will serve your practice well. Here are five exercises you can practice to prepare for or fine-tune your Chaturanga. Heads up: these look nothing like Chaturanga. But they’re relevant. We’ll look at how each one relates to the FourlLimbed Staff Pose anatomically.
The Chaturanga Challenge
Chaturanga requires coordinating the actions of a number of shoulder muscles while simultaneously attending to leg activation and core engagement. These five activities will help you tune these disparate working parts.
Before we jump into our Chaturanga tips, let’s establish a baseline for before-and-after comparison. Lower from Plank Pose (Phalakasana) to Chaturanga Dandasana. Note your sense of stability, strength, support, and fluidity of movement. And now …
Chaturanga Prep #1: Spread Your Wings
The shoulder blades tend to pop off the back of the rib cage while you lower to Chaturanga. This appears as a valley between the shoulder blades or as scapular “winging.” Our first prep targets the serratus anterior, the muscle that prevents this winging.
How to Practice
- Loop a yoga belt around your wrists. When you pull the belt taut, your wrists should be about shoulder distance apart.
- Stand facing a wall and place your forearms on the wall. Your elbows should be at shoulder height.
- Press your forearms into the wall to engage the serratus anterior.
- Press your wrists outward into the belt to engage your shoulder external rotators. Those muscles help prevent your shoulder heads from drooping toward the floor in Chaturanga. (We’ll target these again in prep #3.)
- Now, slide your forearms up and down the wall so your muscles can learn to respond to perturbation. This trains them to adjust their activity as they move through space to reach Chaturanga. Since Chaturanga isn’t a static shape, we need to learn to adapt and fine-tune throughout the span of the movement.
Chaturanga Prep #2: Sneaky Snake
While some need to recruit serratus to broaden the shoulder blades in Chaturanga, others face the opposite challenge. The scapulae stray from the midline, and the shoulder heads droop toward the floor. Rhomboids to the rescue! Your rhomboids attach the inner borders of your shoulder blades to your spine; they draw the scapulae toward each other.
How to Practice Sneaky Snake
- Lie down on your belly, as you would for Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana).
- Lift your chest and head off the floor. Tent your fingertips into the floor on either side of your mat. Your cupped hands will land outside the borders of your mat, and your elbows will point up at the ceiling.
- Now, float your hands off the floor. Repeatedly pulse your shoulder blades toward each other. This movement should come more from the shoulder blades and less from the upper arms. Think, “pinch my shoulder blades together” more than “flap my arms.” (Your arms will, of course, move in response to the scapular activity.) You’re engaging your rhomboids to do this and awakening them to the role they’ll play when you lower to Chaturanga.
Chaturanga Prep #3. Shifty Shoulders
Let’s go back to droopy shoulder heads. In Chaturanga, the shoulders sometimes collapse toward the floor because the rhomboids aren’t firing to hold the scapulae in place. Other times, the shoulder heads drop downward because the rotator cuff muscles that secure the upper arm bone in the shoulder socket aren’t doing their duty. The rotator cuff muscles are small, and feeling them in action is hard. Hence, it’s challenging to forge a communication channel between them and your brain. Prep #3 opens that dialogue by targeting the two rotator cuff muscles that can lift your shoulder heads away from the floor: teres minor and infraspinatus. These are located at the back of your shoulder, so that’s where you should feel the action in this next exercise.
How to Practice Shifty Shoulders
- Clasp a yoga strap or belt in your fists, with elbows by your waist with forearms approximately parallel to the floor, palms face up. Hold the belt taut with your hands shoulder distance(ish) apart.
- Resist with your left hand as your right hand pulls the belt to the right. Your fists and the belt will shift right as a unit.
- Now resist with your right hand as the left hand pulls the unit back to the center. Repeat multiple times on the right before you switch to the left. Feel the back of your right shoulder kicking on. Can you recreate this sensation as you lower to chaturanga?
Chaturanga Prep #4: Dig in Your Heels
Chaturanga is not exclusively an upper-body activity. The more you organize your legs, the more they can help out. If they’re wet noodlish, your upper body has to work harder. So, as you lower, you’ll need to reach back through your heels and charge up your thigh muscles. Prep #4 trains your lower body to participate in chaturanga by implanting the requisite actions in your muscle memory.
How to Dig in Your Heels
- Come into a Lunge Pose (Anjaneyasana) with your hands framing your front foot and your back heel sealed against a wall. (If the ground feels far away, support your hands on blocks.)
- Bend your back knee a bit. This is what you want to avoid in Plank Pose and Chaturanga.
- Now kick your heel into the wall, firming up the whole leg. This is the lower limb sensation you want to cultivate in Plank Pose and Chaturanga.
- Repeat several times to imprint the action.
- Then, switch sides.
Chaturanga Prep #5: Core Crunch
No surprise here: your core’s involved in Chaturanga. Core stability permits your limbs to work efficiently. If the core musculature doesn’t stabilize your trunk, your shoulder and arm muscles will be disadvantaged. They’ll have to work harder to organize their shoulder girdle as they descend into Chaturanga. Belly hammocking toward the floor indicates that the core isn’t sufficiently participating in Chaturanga. So here’s an exercise to train your abdominal muscles to scoop your pubic bone toward your navel, solidifying your center as you lower down.
How to Practice Core Crunch
- Lie on your back with your arms by your sides.
- Lift your legs into the air, directing your feet toward the ceiling. Your knees needn’t be straight. A slight bend is fine if your hamstrings resist fully straightening your legs.
- Use your abs to hike your hips off the floor. Your pelvis won’t lift a great deal. Minimize momentum—avoid swinging your feet over your eyes. You’re training your rectus abdominis and obliques to firmly connect your pubis to the front of your rib cage.
- Do you want to up the ante? Bend your elbows into a robot shape: your fingertips will point up toward the ceiling. In doing so, you’ll move the rooting body part farther from the lifting one, and you’ll need more core oomph to get your hips off the ground.
- Do you still want more challenges on this one? Add load by laying a bolster across your soles. The bolster also turns the exercise into a task-based one: you’re pressing an external object toward the ceiling. Human movement occurs in the context of acting on our environment, so task-based activities are often more effective than those performed in a void. Additionally, the bolster provides feedback about your body’s asymmetries. Notice if it wobbles a little. Maybe one side of your core is stronger or more coordinated than the other. (Or maybe the bolster’s not evenly draped over your feet.)
Retest: Did These Chaturanga Dandasana Preparations Make a Difference?
Now, once again, come into Plank Pose and lower into Chaturanga. Does it feel different from your pre-prep test? Note your sense of stability, strength, support, and fluidity of movement.
Did doing these preps one time magically build muscle strength? No. That happens over time. But these activities forge a sounder connection between your nervous system and your body. It’s kind of like removing static from a phone line. As a result, you may experience clearer mind-body communication and a more organized, easeful Chaturanga Dandasana.