Chatturanga dandasana is a staple of Vinyasa and many other types of yoga, but a lot of practitioners make little mistakes. And once you start doing something in a not so great way, that tends to stick. Hopefully, you’ve had teachers that stop and break down chatturanga. It’s not something that’s easy to “get” just like that. Many people who have been practicing for years can benefit from a little tune up from time to time.
Chatturanga begins in plank pose. However, you can train your body and mind to shift into chatturanga from plank simply by moving forward about one inch. Your wrists should be directly under your shoulders while in plank, but prep for chatturanga requires you to be slightly forward.
It’s probably been drilled into your head that your elbows need to be in when you lower halfway. Make sure you can feel your elbows brush against your ribs.
The biggest issue many people have is their definition of “half-way.” This is where a mirror can come in very handy. Some people don’t go far enough, and others are making things harder on themselves (and their joints) by just barely hovering above their mat. Many people droop in the middle at this point, which gives your back zero support.
It’s often helpful to exaggerate your hips when learning (or re-learning) chatturanga. It might feel like your hips are way up in the air, but if you check int he mirror, they’re actually right where they should be. And yes, this will require more work from your muscles. Simply holding at the half-way point, properly, is enough for many people.
Even after practicing for several years, I prefer to start out my chatturangas with a baby cobra. It stretches in a different way than the full upward facing dog. It also helps my body get into the chatturange rhythm.
I encourage my students to mix and match baby cobra with cobra and upward facing dog. Listen to your body. Feel what these different poses can give you. Remember that yoga isn’t about getting to the next crazy looking asana, but about exploring your body and getting the full benefits from every breath and pose.