Why It's Ok to Skip the Chaturangas
Last month I went to a yoga class which annoyed the heck out of me. The second postures of the sequence was full wheel (a deep backbend) followed by handstand, which was just for starters, followed by a Taylor Swift dance break midway. These things were all terrifying in and of themselves, but the worst of it was when the teacher said that "chaturangas in a yoga class are like clowns in a clown car-the more you can fit in, the better." I don't always do the chaturanga posture in a yoga class, and I rarely teach it, which can leave some students perplexed. Why? Let's start with what chaturanga, as a yoga asana, is.
It's basically a half lowered down push up, but with a fancy sanskrit name. It occurs in the traditional Sun Salutation sequence, and can either be followed by upward facing dog, cobra, etc. As a strengthening pose, it focuses on pecs, anterior deltoid, and triceps, an area that is usually overly tight in most people to begin with. Because of a combination of poor posture and other habits, most people are tight in the front body (pecs/chest) and weak in the back body, and repeating this posture without strengthening the opposing muscles creates an imbalance in the shoulders. In addition, most folks have pretty crazy alignment in this posture to begin with, followed by the sequence to upward dog, putting undue stress on their shoulder joints. By emphasizing the front of the body, which is already restricted, yoga ignores the posterior shoulder muscles, such as the posterior deltoids, the rhomboids, and the external rotators of your shoulder (infraspinatus, teres minor). Musicians in particular, tend to be weak in these areas from repetitive practice and lack of cross training. The consequences can be dangerous for wrists unused to bearing full weight in full extension (read my thoughts on that), as well as exarcerbating restriction in the front of the chest.
What can you do instead? If you are someone who practices a style of yoga which might feature 25-50 chaturangas in each class, consider laying off of a few here and there, especially if you have past or current shoulder issues. I've restricted my chaturangas to 10 or less in a class, and added strengthening poses for the back of the shoulders and lats, as well as some weight training and hanging from a bar. (Also, ask a teacher about your alignment!! There is no consensus on how to align this pose, but getting some input with definitely help.) Here's a quote from yoga teacher Jenni Rawlings, which summarizes my feelings completely.