Chatturunga and Asthang Purnam (knees, chest, chin) are the most commonly repeated portion of vinyasa, ashtanga and some hatha yoga classes.
From beginner yogis who have only just heard the word chatturunga for the first time to seasoned flow-ers, we can always use some tips to help improve our practice.
Repetition creates habit, which overtime creates the body and brain composition, and that’s why correct repetition is so important. Most yoga classes don’t spend enough time on one of the most common and complex transitions in the whole practice.
Here are a few classic errors and how to adjust for success:
1. Elbows locked in updog.
This is the biggest, most painful mistake we can make in a vigorous yoga practice (the pain comes over time). Pay attention to the elbows and knees during yoga practice. Do we have the tendency to allow these hinge joints to lock? Do the elbows ever feel sore after a class? This tendency can be really dangerous if we want to keep a life-long practice.
When we lock our joints, we put ourselves at great risk for hyperextension and eventually a wearing down of the cartilage protecting our bones at the joints. In all poses where arms are straight and weight-bearing, including table top, up dog, down dog, side plank, etc, there should be a micro-bend in the elbow. This keeps the muscles activated to support the body, and we’re not relying heavily on the elbow joint to bear weight.
A note on habits: Our bodies have the tendency to take the easy way out—that is to use less energy in muscle action to get us through. Yoga is here to reverse our bad habits, bring strength and awareness into our bodies and translate that into real life applications.
When we stay aware of this during our practice, our practice can have an immense impact on our lives off the mat.
2. Shoulders up by the ears in chatturunga and up-dog.
This is a lazy up-dog habit. The shoulders should be kept back so that the neck is long on all sides throughout the entire transition. When rising to up-dog, the shoulders are reaching for one another way down on the back, scooping the heart forward into a heart-opening expression.
3. Butt is too high or too low in the plank.
Again this comes from bad habit and poor proprioception.
Have a friend observe whether the hips, shoulders and ankles form a straight diagonal line in plank. Keep checking until the muscle memory (and proprioception) is working correctly, and eventually it won’t even need a thought.
4. Elbows less than 90 degrees during the transition by either lowering the shoulders directly above the hands or by lowering too far.
Chatturunga is meant to train the body for most other yoga poses.
The most obvious application of chatturunga is “chatturunga arms” used in a majority of the arm balances. By training the arms to support the body’s weight at 90 degrees, the body becomes ready for some kick-ass bakasana (crow pose), astavakrasana (crooked pose) and titibhasana (firefly).
5. Elbows out too far to the sides.
Keep those elbows tucked into the sides against the ribs to create a beautiful support for the body. This is good prep for poses like Ganda Bherundasana (chin stand).
6. Hips collapsing onto the floor.
Keep that booty high during your knees/chest/chin transition, and don’t let it drop to ground zero on the updog! If updog is not possible without dropping the hips, it means the body is tired and should stick with ashtang purnam.
It’s better to do more simple postures correctly than go for the big guns and half-ass it.
7. Wide feet in cobra.
In down dog the feet are wide, just like a dog. But in cobra the legs squeeze together to create the illusion of a snake—two legs working as one. The energy gets squeezed through those tight legs, supporting the lifting spine, and bursts out through the heart center.
Be careful of the chin sticking out—let the energy really come from the heart and keep the integrity of the neck.
8. Legs squeezed together for up dog.
Dogs don’t stand or stretch with their feet together. ‘nuff said.
Here’s to proper, careful repetition in our yoga practices to build muscle, keep joints healthy and prep for some cool yoga party tricks.
Author: Ashley Szlachta
Apprentice Editor: Melissa Scavetta / Editor: Emma Ruffin
Photos: Wikimedia Commons / Author’s own