The infamous Chaturanga Dandasana, a.k.a. the yoga push-up or low plank. Most people, including me, have done it either wrong and/or half-assed for years and this is not a good thing.
Why do people do it wrong?
Because it’s HARD.
And why is this not a good thing?
Because if you do any style of Ashtanga-based yoga, (which most yoga in the U.S. is) it’s the one yoga pose that you will probably do wrong the most times.
Doing a pose wrong over and over again = potential for repetitive motion injuries, and in this case specifically, rotator cuff injuries.
So let’s learn it the right way!
Here's what you’ll need:
An audience who will appreciate the creative expletives that may come out of your mouth once you are holding the full pose
In order to do the full version of the pose, you must have sufficient arm, shoulder, and abdominal strength. These parts work together in a complicated way to create the perfect alignment here.
If you don’t yet have the strength (or you do and you’re just tired) drop your knees! Don’t be embarrassed to do this. I admit I have been.
But don’t be like me: Try not to have an ego during yoga.
Start from plank:
Hands under elbows
Elbows under shoulders
Abdominals and low ribs pulled in; core engaged
Thighs pushing up
Heels pushing back
Hug all your muscles into the midline of the body
Roll WAY forward on your toes (see pic below). Even more than you think you should. (This ensures you will lower down with your arms in a 90° angle.)
Now begin to lower down until your arms form a 90° angle and stop just at that point.
Do this while keeping the following in mind:
Keep your core VERY engaged just as in plank—abdominals and ribs really pulled in
HUG your elbows into the sides of your body
Keep the tops of your shoulders pulled back away from your ears and pointing straight forward, not drooping down.
Imagine that you’re trying to make your clavicles SMILE. In other words, broaden through the chest. “Smile your clavicles”.
I love that last tip! I got it from yoga teacher Tiffany Cruikshank over at yogaglo. It was the missing piece I needed to get my Chaturanga right. Just that one tiny tip fixed my pose. I love it when that happens. If this tip means nothing to you, just ignore it.
So that’s it. Chaturanga in a nutshell.
Note: Practice your Chaturanga in front of a mirror or another person at first, so you can see how low you need to go to form a 90 degree angle with your arms. Then it will be stored safely away in your muscle memory.
As I said earlier, if you’re still working on your strength or just feeling tired, drop your knees!
And actually, even if you are able to do the full pose, doing this variation helps you learn proper alignment because you’re still working all the same muscles above the waist, without having to concentrate on carrying all the extra weight of your lower body.
This is how NOT to do the pose.
This is what you’ll often see in yoga classes, albeit a bit exaggerated here:
The Ass Hike: This tends to happen when the core is not engaged enough.
The Droopy Shoulders: This happens because most people are stronger in the front of the shoulders and pectoral muscles and are using these primarily instead of the muscles they should be engaging: the rhomboids and serratus anterior muscles, which hold the shoulder girdle together.
Complete the sequence with Upward Facing Dog.
I hope this short tutorial helped get you closer to a correctly aligned yoga push-up.