Chatarunga Dandasana is one of those movements that you’ll hear in just about every Vinyasa, Ashtanga, or Hatha yoga class. Sometimes your teacher might call the movement a “vinyasa” instead of Chatarunga, but it’s same-same really.
Although alignment is certainly important for all yoga poses, one of the reasons it’s extra important for Chatarunga is due to the sheer volume of times you’ll go through this movement in every class. If you’re doing it five million times in 60 minutes, then it’s pretty dang vital that you’re doing it correctly.
This post will cover what a Chatarunga is, why we do Chatarungas in yoga classes, and 5 important reminders to improve your Chatarunga practice.
Proper Alignment for Chatarunga in Yoga
What is a Chatarunga?
Chatarunga Dandasana translates directly to English as “four limbed staff pose.” The truth is, Chatarungas are a low plank position. Yep, that’s all. Don’t worry, if you thought that Chatarunga was a yogi push-up, or the entire motion from high plank, to low plank, to upward facing dog, to downward facing dog…you’re not alone.
Modern yoga has grouped together all of these poses, and generalized the entire motion to mean Chatarunga, or “vinyasa.” But the truth is, Chatarunga is only the low plank portion of that mini sequence. To get a better understanding of how to improve your High Plank Pose, read my post that breaks down tips and alignment for this pose first.
For the sake of this post being about modern yoga, I will refer to the entire sequence (high plank, low plank, updog, downdog) as a Chatarunga. While also focusing specifically on the movement from high plank to low plank.
Why do we do Chatarungas in yoga classes?
You’ll find yourself doing Chatraungas in most flow-type yoga classes for many reasons. I personally feel like Chatarungas sort of “rinse out” each side, giving me a fresh start for the next round.
This, of course, is more of an energetic or emotional meaning of Chatarungas in yoga classes, while the below list will focus on the tangible elements of Chatarungas in relation to the physical body and alignment.
First and foremost, Chatarungas are in yoga classes to help students build more strength. Particularly in the upper body- shoulders, chest, and wrists. If you read my post about High Plank Pose, then you’ll know that while this is certainly strong for the upper body, it’s really a full body experience when you’re doing it correctly. Building strength is vital in yoga, as all postures require a blend of strength and flexibility.
Set Up For Arm Balances
Chatarunga alignment is the baseline from which you’ll build upon once you start to arm balances and inversions. Sure, the strength element certainly helps when you start your arm balance and inversion practice. But it’s not everything.
Discovering proper alignment can really help you when it comes to balancing upside down. Because even if you have the strength to muscle up, it will likely be harder to hold without the ability to find that sweet spot of balance. The arm position in Chatarunga is useful in all arm balances like Crow Pose, Grasshopper Pose, Flying Pigeon, and also Tripod Headstand.
Counter Pose For Folds
Although backbends are certainly a huge component of the yoga practice, most classes are pretty forward fold heavy. There is a lot of compression and strength in the core, which is great! But will also leave the body craving a juicy opening after all that hugging in.
Chatarungas as a sequence are a great way to ensure you always have a counter pose to all that folding, because of the Upward Facing Dog piece. If you read my post about backbends, then you’ll know that Upward Facing Dog is one of my favorites to include in all classes due to the accessible nature and effectiveness of the pose.
5 Ways To Improve Your Chatarunga
Alright, I’d say you’re pretty ready to jump on the mat and get started with improving your Chatarunga, right? I don’t blame you! This is where the fun part is. So, roll out your mat, give your wrists a little warm up…and let’s dive in.
As always, modifications are key. Trust me when I say you’ll make more progress, and build more strength, by modifying with correct alignment. Rather than doing the fullest expression with incorrect alignment over and over again.
If you’re unsure whether or not you need to modify, read my High Plank Pose post to get a good feel for your High Plank Pose first. If you need to modify there, then you’ll need to modify here. Otherwise, you can try going through Chatraunga with the below tips, and see if you can do so with correct alignment. If not, then modify.
The modification for Chatarunga is simple: put your knees on the ground from High Plank Pose. And keep them on the ground as you lower to Low Plank Pose. Remember, knees on the ground in High Plank Pose looks different from Table Top, where your joints are stacked. Modified High Plank Pose means the knees are actually behind the hips, rather than directly underneath them.
Shoulders Over Wrists
It is so important to bump your shoulders over your wrists before you lower into Low Plank Pose, so this builds strength and mobility in the wrists, while also protecting the shoulder heads.
As an example with the breath from High Lunge: exhale High Plank, inhale shoulders over wrists, exhale Chatarunga (lower halfway), inhale Upward Facing Dog, exhale Downward Facing Dog.
It’s vital that your front body remains compressed up and back to your back body throughout High Plank Pose, to Low Plank Pose, all the way until you open up in Upward Facing Dog.
If you’re unsure how compression looks or feels, think of Cat Pose. Your shoulders are protracting, meaning they’re spreading up and back behind you as you ferociously press the ground away from you. Your pelvis scoops underneath you in a posterior tilt, which helps you to squeeze your glutes and hug your low belly in and back to your spine. There’s a hollowing of the front body, and a spreading of the back body.
I’d like you to exaggerate the Cat-like nature of when you move through Chatarunga, because the tendency is the dump and sag into the joints and belly, causing a sway in the back. If you find compression impossible, and you have a Cow-like sway in your back, guess what? You need to modify it! Trust me, this will help you build more strength.
90 Degree Angle or Less
There’s a really common misconception that the lower you go in your Chatarunga, the “better” it is. Or, the “stronger” you’ll be. Sorry to break the news- but that’s entirely incorrect. In fact, the lower you go, the worse it is for you, due to the load it puts on your shoulder heads. This often leads to injuries and tears overtime.
As you lower down halfway, you want to make sure that at a maximum your arms are at a 90 degree angle. This means that 90 degrees is the lowest to go in Chatarunga. You will do yourself a favor to actually lower less than 90 degrees while maintaining compression, then lowering more than 90 degrees and losing compression.
The 90 degrees shelf of your arms will be really helpful as you move onto arms balances and inversions, because this shelf will help to stabilize your balance. If you get in the habit of lowering more than 90 degrees in Chatarunga, you’re more likely to hurt your shoulders when you move onto arm balances, because you’re putting more weight into them.
So far, I’ve talked a lot about the upper body. And that makes sense! We’re not used to holding ourselves up with our arms or hands, which is why they typically need a little more focus. But the truth is, your Chatarunga will feel a lot lighter and more accessible if you get the legs involved, as well.
From high plank, you want to push back through your heels, and lift your kneecaps up towards your hip bones to switch on your quads. Don’t forget to squeeze the glutes behind you as you scoop the pelvis. Maintain this full body activation as you lower from High Plank to Chatarunga. And if you lose it, try with the modification of the knees on the ground until you build enough strength to eventually lift the knees.
There you have it, my friends. It looks like you’re ready to Chatarunga your little heart out. And, what’s even better, you can do so without hurting yourself and building proper strength.