- Megan McInturff
Get Into Alignment: How To Correct Common Mistakes in Chaturanga Dandasana
It seems as though Chaturanga Dandasana is there one moment and gone the next. Literally. We spend one portion of a breath in Chaturanga and then we’re on to the next pose. We fly through it in a transition called a Vinyasa, where each pose is held for one breath (inhale or exhale). So, we aren’t given much time to settle in and find correct alignment.
Unfortunately, if your alignment is poor in Chaturanga, you may be doing more harm than good to your shoulders. Chaturanga Dandasana is found either by lowering down from plank pose or jumping back from a forward fold and landing in Chaturanga, bent elbows and all! No matter how you approach Chaturanga, try to avoid these common mistakes and instead, make these adjustments:
Dropping the shoulders below the height of the elbows. If you “dip too low” in Chaturanga and bend your elbows more than 90 degrees, grab a block! Bring the block to either its lowest or medium height. Place the block so it is directly below the chest when you are in plank. Lower down into Chaturanga, allowing the chest to meet the block. Pause here. Your elbows should only have a 90 degree bend, and your chest should broaden across the block. Slightly pull your shoulders back so you do not round forward.
Dropping the gaze down and back. Your body is going to go where your eyes go. If you are dropping your gaze down and back towards your legs when lowering into Chaturanga, you’ll bring your shoulders with you. Keep your gaze slightly forward, around the top edge of your mat. This will assist in expanding the chest and broadening the collar bones to draw the shoulders onto the back.
Letting the elbows splay out. You may have been taught in grade school Phys. Ed. class to take the elbows wide in a push up. But that is not what you want to do here. I’m not saying your PE teacher was wrong, just that a push up is different than Chaturanga. In Chaturanga, keep your elbows squeezed to the side of your ribcage. If you are coming down from plank, your elbows should already be right over the wrist (or pretty close.) When you bend at the elbows and lower down to Chaturanga, your shoulders are actually moving towards the top of your mat, so that your elbows can stay stacked right over top of the wrist. Ever heard a teacher say “Shift forward onto the toes and lower down”? This instruction is to keep the elbows stacked and shoulders moving forward. Also, this keeps the pressure even through the bones in the hand, helping steer clear of wrist injuries.
Keeping the hips lifted. The unrecognized hero in Chaturanga Dandasana is no other than … surprise, the core! The stronger and more active your abdominal muscles, the less force is put on your shoulders. One of the biggest contributors to all of the alignment mishaps mentioned above is a weak core. It’s no secret that Chaturanga is heavy on the shoulders. It may not be that your shoulders are weak, but rather you are not utilizing the core as much as you could. If your hips stay lifted in Chaturanga, it’s almost impossible to engage the core. Get the hips level with or slightly below the height of the shoulders and engage the core by drawing the tailbone down. The action of drawing the tailbone down will drastically take the force out of your shoulder joints.