Not to dwell on the past, but 7 or 8 years ago me and my chaturanga dandasana (four-limbed staff pose, or low yogi push-up) got real. (Thanks to some stellar yoga teachers like Tia from Yoga Source).
I faced the fact that I had been faking it for years. I was taking shortcuts, I was in utter denial of my actual form in the pose, which starred the super-sway back, butt up, hunched shoulders, and the occasional (ok, frequent) elbow shelf (you know what I’m talking about ;)).
….All because I wanted to fit in and do ALL. THE. CHATURANGAS…. (yes, it’s not that different from “all the cookies” or “all the beers”). I was ACTING LIKE A TEENAGER who stuffs her bra to fit in with the older kids.
Mind you, this was two years after a shoulder injury from yoga (my form in chaturanga and downward facing dog were some of the culprits), which led me to undertake substantial prerequisites then grad school where I was face-planted into my first year of a physical therapy doctoral program. Now I’m a doctor of physical therapy — I have always been wide-eyed for biomechanics, fascinated by the ways our bodies can optimize movement. That’s one of the things that got me teaching yoga in the first place.
But as they say, “De Nile” is a huge river.
The bratty side of ourselves (ok, myself) that charges forth on the same path, even when we (ok, I) know better, is like a bike extremely worn out brake pads. What should smoothly glide to a halt instead hiccups and stutters then stalls meanwhile endangering our wellbeing.
When I FINALLY got raw and honest about my form in chaturanga, I knew that I needed to do three things I totally didn’t want to do:
For vinyasa yogis, this is the equivalent of backing away from a flirty Ryan Gosling (or whichever coupled-off hottie or bad boy floats your boat). He lives with his new baby’s mama. Step away. Now.
You can back off by skipping chaturanga entirely, by skipping some of them (no need to do 30: this is super-secret, but you don’t get any bonus star stickers on your mat), or modifying the pose in some way: my favorite is knees-down, don’t let your shoulders dip below your line of integrity (straight line from knees through the crown of the head).
2. Cross train
This was mandatory, even if I hid the cross-training within my yoga practice. I had to get to know my core to eliminate the sexyback sway, engage my glutes to drop the buttocks, and learn to work the muscles that hold my shoulderblades firmly on the back.
3. Do the work.
Being in grad school is a universal “out”: to skip invites, to leave the dishes until tomorrow, to bemoan the “fact” that I “didn’t have time” to practice, and just barely made it to class 2x/week. We all have outs. They are like using a cane when you have two good legs: fun for a moment, but will cause you more pain in the end. When I admitted that I was really quite in control of the vast majority of my time, I carved time to do a daily yoga practice and loved life more.
My practices were/are not always, or often, long (they don’t even necessarily look like yoga). But daily (or frequent) shorter hatha yoga practices in your home are THE best way to prevent injury, and will yield way more results than showing up for Level 3 class 1-2x week. I am living proof. A variety of frequent movements has been shown again and again in research to trump the weekend warrior marathons of office workers.
Chatuaranga dandasana is a humbling, advanced, asana.
To learn chaturanga well requires willingness to be a student and to practice, to learn from experienced teachers (who might give a lot more instruction than you are used to), and to put your ego on ice to chill for a minute. You may have to attend slow-paced classes or special workshops focusing on vinyasa form.
I like to say it took me 9 years to learn the pose, and learn it well. But I made it to the other side, and boy is the grass green over here. Wanna join?
If you suspect you could learn more about the elusive chaturanga dandasana (maybe prevent future injuries, or even potentially heal what you have going on), …and you’d like to hang out with me and my Ryan Gosling jokes, I invite you to one of my future Chaturanga Clinic workshops (events list here). (There’s one THIS very Sunday at Pure Prana in Alexandria, VA. Click here to sign up.)
As always, I’d love to know what you think about this take on chaturanga, and what questions YOU have. Post in the comments below, start a conversation by sharing this post on Facebook, and let’s stay close! I have a monthly newsletter (sign up here), a fun Instagram stream, and a thoughtful yoga page on Facebook.
Light as a feather, stiff as a board, xo,