Women commonly remark that they don’t have the upper body strength to do some yoga poses.
Don’t worry, women: men commonly remark they don’t have the flexibility to do some yoga poses either… and God knows that kids may have the flexibility, but they certainly lack the attention span to hold poses beyond a few seconds.
I try to be as inclusive as I can in my classes, so that I’m not repeatedly asking people to do things they can’t do. When we go into chaturanga, the pose that resembles the bottom of a push-up position, I endeavor to emphasize that you can lower yourself all the way to the floor if you need to.
What if you’ve been partaking of the latter option and are now ready to let your body hover over the floor like a skilled four-limbed yogi? Is there a “chaturanga lite” option, please, one that will gradually ease me into the full-fledged thing?
You’ve come to the right place. Here is is, with a little twist (puns should always be assumed to be intended):
1. Set your hands and knees on the ground and tilt the weight of your body forward, toward your hands. I personally find that, for the legs, having the support point be somewhere forward of the knee caps (instead of directly on them), is better, but results may vary from knee to knee.
2. Bend your elbows and sink down to where you’re just barely off the floor. Hold this for two slow breaths, or more if possible—or for one slow breath, if you’re not feeling strong enough yet to stay there very long.
3. Now come back up, turn to your right, and extend your right arm back behind you. The interesting thing is that while this doesn’t require as much strength as holding yourself off the floor, you will still strengthen your arms and shoulders… and get a nice spinal extension out of this. Keep your head up high so your spine stays long. Stay for three slow breaths.
4. Come back down to the modified push-up position and stay here for two slow breaths, more if possible.
5. Come back up and turn to your left this time, again with your left arm extended straight back, parallel to the ground. Stay for three slow breaths.
6. Come back down one last time, stay for your preferred length of breaths, and let go. Lie on your back with your knees bent for 6 breaths to dispel any leftover tension in the spine or shoulders.
Benefits: Being able to keep up with everyone else in class while they’re doing chaturanga, and doing so without missing a beat. Or, more to the point, strengthening your shoulders, chest and upper back to where a regular chaturanga will become feasible. Ladies who are concerned about developing bulky muscles and shoulders: it’s not going to happen. No one will mistake you for a competitive weight lifter from the use of chaturanga lite.
Avoid if: If you find your knees or especially your lower back don’t particularly adapt well to the position (check for lower back discomfort after the position, not just during it), you may need something else. Ditto if you have carpal tunnel or any other wrist issues that tend to aggravate with pressure put on the hands. It’s a little iffy, though: lower back and wrist issues can improve with daily revisiting of this position… or if you truly find it’s leaving too much tension on your wrists or low back (or experience pain anywhere during the position), then select different yoga poses and try again in a few months, when your body has acclimated to the new poses.
Final thoughts: Despite the fact that they don’t have the strength of younger men or the flexibility of younger women, the best candidates for yoga are, hands down, older people. They may have a longer way to go to build muscle again or to de-rust some body hinges, but they balance that with not judging themselves for whether they can do a yoga pose or not. Now, what do I mean by an older person? Well, my friend Jim, who works with seniors, notes that they always refer to themselves as “middle-aged.” So for our purposes and definitions, there’s infancy, youth, and middle age. There’s nothing after middle age.
Author: Ricardo das Neves
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photos: Author’s Own