Today’s topic is a very dear topic to my heart! It is my most favorite pose, the chaturanga pose also known as military push-up with the elbows tucked in. Both names describe the exact same movement. We will be using both names interchangeably.
What is chaturanga
Chaturanga is a Sanskrit word which means four limbs. As the name of the pose implies you’re supposed to only have four limbs solid on the ground — the two hands and two feet.
However, not everyone is physically able to perform the chaturanga pose in this manner, at least not the very first time they try it.
This is where Ayurveda comes in to save the day once again. Ayurveda says that depending on your circumstances there are some highly important and critical modifications to this pose that are worth exploring.
And that’s what we want to talk about. A very favorite quote of mine is by Bruce Lee. It goes along the following lines:
I do not fear a man who has practiced ten thousand kicks once. I fear a man who has practiced one kick ten thousand times.
So the fundamental idea behind this quote is that practice makes whatever it is you are practicing, permanent. Practice does not necessarily make anything perfect. Practice makes it permanent. This is why you need to keep your practice simple and proper.
I’m going to repeat this one more time:
Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes “permanent”.
“Permanent” can be a great thing, “permanent” can be a problem. If we do not practice properly, we keep reinforcing negative habits that in the long run can hurt us.
In this particular case, if we do not properly practice chaturanga, it is only a matter of time, before we get hurt physically.
On the same note, if we do not properly teach chaturanga, it is only a matter of time, before our students get hurt physically.
This is something that unfortunately we see a lot.
Chaturanga is very often incorporated in sun salutations. Pretty much every variation of a sun salutation has some form of chaturanga in it.
But what we have noticed is that statistically, chaturanga is either not being practiced properly, or is being skipped all together.
As a result, the students move from some sort of plank to an upward facing dog or cobra by either doing some weird version or chaturanga damaging their shoulders and low back or by skipping chaturanga all together.
Whether they are poorly performing chaturanga or skipping chaturanga, either way, Ayurveda says that it is only a matter of time before they experience low back issues and / or shoulder issues.
One of the most common examples of poorly practicing chaturanga involves tucking the pelvis. Tucking the pelvis during a low pushup has been shown to statistically be one of the most detrimental things one can do to their lower back.
Improper instruction and / or improper practice like the one mentioned above, has lead to conclusions along the lines of:
yoga hurt my lower back or yoga is bad for my back
What we want to clarify and emphasize here is that proper chaturanga is extremely important for our health.
How to practice proper chaturanga
There are several steps you can follow in order to practice chaturanga properly. So I don’t want you thinking “Oh no, chaturanga! Oh no, military pushup with the elbows in! I don’t have the strength for that!”
Everybody has the strength to practice chaturanga and its variations. What we will do here is give you the big picture to get started, so you can at least entertain the thought of practicing chaturanga.
As we said early on, chaturanga is a military push-up with four limbs, as in the hands and the feet.
Picture yourself flat as a staff, comfortably resting on your hands and feet, with the rest of your body hovering just inches off the ground. That’s full chaturanga.
Obviously, not everybody can do that right away. This is where Ayurveda comes in and asks us to take a step back and modify accordingly.
Ayurveda says — use the knees. Instead of practicing full chaturanga, instead of having only four parts on the floor, set six parts on the floor, your hands, your knees and your feet.
Obviously, not everybody can do that right away either. Ayurveda is here to help us once again.
Ayurveda says — use the chest and chin for support, in other words, use eight points of contact with the ground, your feet, knees, hands, chest and chin.
No matter which version you choose, the one thing that really matters is that you keep your hips off the floor and you are not compressing your lower back. Hips and glutes off the floor, that is the proper way of performing chaturanga.
where to start from
The next question that arises is — how do you know if you have the strength to do full chaturanga, or six point, or eight point?
The answer is simple: Use plank pose or the high pushup position with the arms straight as your gauge.
If someone can hold the high push-up, arms straight, only hands and feet on the floor, no knees on the floor, with proper form for 60 seconds straight then you have the strength to perform a full chaturanga.
If you cannot do the above, then you place the knees on the floor. If you can hold plank with knees on the floor in proper form for 60 seconds straight then you can perform six-point.
If you cannot do that, if you can’t hold plank with your knees on the floor with proper form for 60 seconds straight then you go to eight-point.
And everybody can do the proper eight-point if they are taught properly. It is very important to perform eight-point with proper form. It should neither be skipped nor taught improperly.
The benefits of proper chaturanga
Remember that the benefits of chaturanga are tremendous.
Chaturanga is a compound movement. Compound movement is any movement that uses a group of the major muscles simultaneously. Compound movements develop core strength and proper posture. Performing chaturanga consistently will help you develop strong core and good posture.
Another significant benefit of a compound movement and in particular chaturanga (or six-point or eight-point) is cardiovascular activity. Would you have even thought that chaturanga assists in cardiovascular activity?
Yes, performing chaturanga, increases your heart rate. Any time you perform movements like that, movements that use a lot of major muscles all together, you raise your heart rate.
Chaturanga also helps with developing shoulder strength. Chaturanga is a significant shoulder stabilizer and can also assist with strengthening the bones themselves. It may even help with osteoarthritis and other such conditions.
When you should not practice chaturanga
As we already mentioned, everybody can perform some version of chaturanga.
However, if you’re not going to do it properly, you are better off not doing it all together. Performing the low pushup improperly will lead you to serious musculoskeletal issues in only a matter of time.
Furthermore, if you don’t know how to teach the low push up properly, come to us, ask for help, or don’t teach it. Please do not do damage to yourselves or your students. Do no harm, it’s your duty to do no harm.
Another quote that I would like to read to you because it’s a little bit longer and I don’t want to bastardize it is by Socrates. Socrates said:
No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. What a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.
It is really a disgrace to grow old without realizing the beauty and strength that our body is capable of. And it’s not that difficult, it’s not that difficult to stay strong and healthy, it is very simple after all. But it takes some effort, we have to be doing it right, performing it right, consistently.
Remember what Bruce Lee said. He was afraid of the man who had performed a kick ten thousand times but performed it properly.
So go back, think and analyze your version of chaturanga, what you are practicing, and or what you’re teaching.
Are you practicing it properly?
Are you teaching it properly?
Are you discouraging students or are you discouraged yourself because you think there is only one way to do it?
Are you familiar with the variations, the steps, the progression?
If you are not, we are here, we will help you. We strongly believe in keeping things simple but correct.
Namaste kala! Which in Greek means, may we all be well! -Vie and Tim
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