Updated: Feb 9, 2021
Chaturanga. A word used to describe a movement seen in almost any vinyasa yoga class. It is a great strengthening move, but if done incorrectly, over time, it can cause damage to the shoulder joint.
If you’ve never heard of the pose it is a push up type movement that connects plank pose and updog (most of the time). It is also the equivalent of a tricep push-up.
Due to postural deviations, poor cueing from a teacher who might not know better, and the possibility of rushing through this pose, shoulder alignment is not optimal. So what should chaturanga look like? What is optimal shoulder alignment? What movements can you do to make your chaturanga stronger? And what modifications can you do in the meantime? These are all important questions that will be answered in this post to help protect the shoulders and minimize your risk of injury.
This is what a common plank and chaturanga may look like if you spend your time at a desk always hunched over.
The shoulders are rounded and the rotators cuff muscles are overworking because this is the way our body has adapted to life in front of a computer/phone screen. When this type of posture translates to chaturanga the shoulder tendons that are between the arm bone and shoulder joint have a higher risk of being worn down over time, leading to pinched nerves and tears.
There are 4 muscles that pass through this area and they hold the shoulder blade in the socket of the glenohumeral joint. Which is all fancy words to say, “They make sure your shoulder blade doesn’t fall off and help move your arm.” If you’ve ever done physical therapy for your shoulder or have been told you have a rotator cuff tear then you are probably familiar with these muscles. They all attach to the same place. This is what they look like.
Optimal shoulder alignment means your shoulders are down and back on your ribs and ears are pulled back over your shoulders. The inside edge of the scapula (shoulder blades) are about an inch from the spine. As you lower halfway (to the height of your elbows) the elbows are 1-2 inches away from your ribs to prevent overworking of your lat muscles. The abdominals and glutes work to help stabilize the rest of the muscles in the core as you lower. The shoulder blades don’t move closer together, they stay 1 inch (roughly) away from the spine. Go ahead and give it a try! It is possible, no matter where you are in your practice. It may take time to retrain habits, but over time these types of movements are more sustainable.
Notice the difference in the shoulder heads circled here. If you’re not sure what your form looks like, film yourself. This is a great way to get to know your habits. Notice that it may be harder after trying to apply proper form! Try some of these techniques below to slowly introduce better form.
Lowering the knees is a great way to keep control of your shoulder blades as you develop more strength. It is not cheating. It is requiring proper form.
Using a wall to practice against works well. I have also seen doing pushups on benches and other reclined objects.
Doorway stretch. Goal post your arms and place them on a door frame. Lean your torso through the door frame to open the chest. Do both arms or one at a time.
Other arm workouts that promote strength in the biceps, triceps and upper back muscles.
Shoulder pain is not normal when practicing yoga. Chaturanga is only one of the many arm heavy poses you might use in a yoga practice. Try to achieve good shoulder alignment practices as you move into other poses. If you have recurring pain, go see a physical therapist. Have any questions? Post them below. Subscribe below to get notifications about future posts!
Links to help the shoulders: