Calling All Yogis: Here’s How to Chaturanga Correctly

by Zena Wozniak, NC, RYT and Mara Santilli · Updated May 16, 2022
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You know your vinyasa class is about to get a bit sweatier when the instructor throws the option to chaturanga into upward facing dog after flowing through a couple of baby cobras. Want to give chaturanga a try during class? Go for the challenge. But the tricky part is knowing how to chaturanga correctly and what to do with your shoulders, elbows, and hips. Keep on reading to find out more about how to do chaturanga.

Chaturanga is more than just a pushup. It’s an integral part of countless sequences across the many types of yoga. Since a proper chaturanga can benefit both your practice and your posture, it’s worth doing right. To understand common mistakes and proper chaturanga technique, we enlisted the help of Hannah Dawe of Love Yoga in Los Angeles and Anna Gold, L.Ac, DACM, certified yoga teacher and doctor of East Asian medicine. 

What is chaturanga?

Chaturanga is a full-body pose that’s part of the vinyasa. You have to use your legs, core, upper body, and mental awareness to keep everything aligned. Chaturanga can be difficult for beginners and advanced yogis alike.

What Are the Benefits Of A Strong Chaturanga?

Great things come out of practicing chaturanga the right way. The chaturanga benefits are plentiful, including that you start to strengthen muscles that not only make you feel more empowered in your yoga practice, but also more aware of your posture throughout the day. Some of the muscle groups you’re especially working in this pose are the core, back, shoulders, arms, and thighs; you’re also strengthening the wrists and ankles, Gold says.  It also helps elongate the back and legs, she adds. Perhaps when you’re sitting in traffic, you’ll remember to roll your shoulders back to alleviate upper-back aches. Essentially, chaturanga works like good preventative medicine. It keeps you strong, aligned, and feeling good.

Chaturanga with Blocks - The Wellnest by HUM Nutrition

How Can Yogis Work Toward Proper Chaturanga Form?

One way is to use blocks for support to build strength and improve form. You can set up the blocks at medium height across your mat. (If you don’t have blocks, you can stack some books to support the root of your thighbone.) Doing so takes weight out of the upper body and alleviates some pressure at the front of the shoulder.

You can also get stronger for chaturanga by checking your alignment in plank pose (more on that in a moment), with a neutral spine and ab muscles pulled in, says Gold. You can test that alignment by holding the plank for about a minute and check to see if you can keep your muscles engaged while you bend the elbows slightly. Your back should stay neutral the whole time.

How to Chaturanga Correctly

To reiterate, a good chaturanga pushup requires a super long spine. Here’s how to do chaturanga: If you’re coming from down dog, shift forward to plank. Keep inching forward so your shoulders move past your wrists, then bend your elbows and tuck them in close to your sides. From there, flip over your toes to come into upward-facing dog. Widen the chest, keep your legs lifted, and engage your belly. Then tuck your toes back under to lift into plank and then back into downward-facing dog.

Chaturanga - The Wellnest by HUM Nutrition

What Kinds of Mistakes Do People Make During Chaturanga?

Some common chaturanga mistakes include dipping the shoulder heads forward below the elbow line. Doing so collapses the smile of the chest and puts a lot of stress on the shoulder. To avoid shoulder dips, keep the collarbone lifted and the spine tall. Your shoulders also shouldn’t be up toward your ears either, says Gold. You should keep them relaxed and your chest open so that your shoulder blades stay flat along your back. 

This is a classic mistake too: People might treat chaturanga like a classic pushup and their elbows might be out to the side as they bend down. “The correct alignment is wrists under the shoulders and elbows close to the body,” says Gold. That way, the main strength building is in your core.  “If you let your elbows fly out to the side, you lose strength in the center,” she adds.

Another mistake is pitching the chin forward. It kind of looks like a PEZ dispenser head where the chin is far forward and the cervical spine excessively arches. You can fix this issue similarly to the last one. First, draw your shoulder blades down the back. Next, keep that smile across your collarbone so you’re not dipping into the shoulders and pitching your head forward.

Finally, the last mistake is a “booty pop,” aka sticking your butt in the air. Remember that you want your hips to be at shoulder height. So drop your hips down, lift the belly, and keep working the upper back.

Chaturanga Modifications

If you’re a chaturanga beginner, you should spring for a plank position and the proper chaturanga alignment, even if you don’t get that close to the ground, Gold says. “The most important parts of doing this pose correctly are keeping your core strong, your spine neutral, and legs activated.” So, that means you could start with a small bend in the elbows and will still reap the chaturanga benefits, as long as you’re staying in alignment, adds Gold. 

Even if you’re pregnant, you can still attempt chaturanga if you’re feeling up to it. Just be mindful that your joints have increased mobility as pregnancy goes on, so you could be prone to overstretching, Gold says. If it’s not a comfortable posture for you, it’s fine to skip chaturanga while you’re pregnant. 

For anyone who has a wrist injury (or if you injure your wrists trying to do chaturanga incorrectly), you could practice chaturanga on your fists instead of your hands flat on the ground, Gold suggests. That way, you can work on strengthening the wrists until they’re ready to support your full body weight.


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