Knowing your elbow from your asana: the real life struggle of Chaturanga Dandasana

So i’ve been to a fair few yoga class now and i’ve been noticing my strength and flexibility increasing physically and mentally. Each class brings new poses (asanas) and new challenges depending on how my body might be feeling that day but none quite as challenging as chaturanga dandsana. The one asana I can actually pronounce (I think?) properly and yet can’t seem to work out whatsoever!

It is an asana in itself, you might hear it being called four limbed staff pose, or if you’re still not sure, it’s that damn awful push down from plank to cobra or up dog when you’re flowing in sun salutation a. If you’re like me you might be in the habit of going from plank and pretty much just flopping onto your mat and quickly up into cobra (or if i’m feeling particularly brave upward facing dog) and hoping no one would notice that I actually don’t know what chaturanga is.

Then the day came when my instructor came over and told me my hands were too narrow and my elbows were shooting out. Your arms should be at a 90 degree angle whilst maintaining the integrity of your spine, weight coming forward on your toes, shoulders and chest moving forward and through as you descend. MIND MELTDOWN BUT Integrity being the buzz word here, it was time to be honest about my ignorance towards chaturanga. So, the next time I tried to keep my elbows tucked in and my shoulder blades down my back but my big old ass started to shoot up. I tried to focus on keeping my pelvis in the right place for the top of my back to start to crumple up. WHAT THE ACTUAL IS THIS POSE?! All of a sudden i’d gotten myself into such a muddle that I had got the complete fear of trying to do it at all! “The pose begins when you want to leave it” Well, I was ready to indefinitely say goodbye to it. Unfortunately, it’s pretty much unavoidable in any vinyasa practice and it actually sets the foundations for a lot of those fancy arm balances that you see, more importantly doing it wrong could even cause a rotator cuff or equally grim shoulder injury etc. That’s why it’s important to know your asanas and keep on checking on the little things in your practice.

I am determined that chaturanga and I will be BFFs one day but for now I need to modify what i’m doing. As instructed, I’m unashamedly dropping my knees until I build the strength to do the full fecker! I’ve been checking myself out in the mirror trying to see where my spine integrity is at, i’ve watched an obscene amount of youtube videos; some of which have also suggested putting a block under your pelvis or to use a strap around your arms to pull your elbows in… I’m trying it all and with small steps and listening to my body i’ll get there!

Most importantly listen to your teacher (and yourself!!) – those guys love when you’re doing it right and doing what serves your body best so don’t be afraid to ask the questions. There’s no shame in being tweaked and given guidance. For me, it’s a challenge not an obstacle. A journey not a destination to master a pose but to find the strength within myself to keep returning to the things I find difficult as much as the things I enjoy. I now know what the asana demands and where I’m going wrong from my ass to my elbow and I will get those elbows in to my ribs, my ass down and get my spine in line and when I do i’m going to post a god damn after picture!

Beginning Yoga

When everything had fallen apart, I got over myself and onto a yoga mat and I have never looked back.


I came to the mat with a battered body and a shattered heart. I had crashed hard into the bottom of the rocks, the tide was in and the storm was so fierce, not only had I forgotten how to swim, I had lost the desire to even try.

Out of hope, a friend persuaded me to go to a yoga class. Being a full figured, beer drinking, ex rugby player I squirmed at the thought of it. I scoffed at the term yogi. My mind wailed that it was stretchy nonsense for beautiful lycra wearers to show off their impeccable figures and that I wouldn’t be able to do it, that I would be a disgusting laughing stock. I 100% believed that critical inner voice. I believed it as I walked into the Flow studio in Belfast. I believed it as I was shown where to get my mat. I believed it as the beautiful, feline like instructor began the class. I believed it as I watched the exquisite bodies in motion all around me. However, as I observed and feebly attempted to make shapes with my own body I realised no one was watching me, instead they were focused, they were soaking something in, they were vibrating on a difference frequency that seemed to radiate from the instructor (and for anyone that’s taken Elizabeth’s class you know what i’m talking about – dang girl, that lady has got some serious celestial sass) and so I too focused, I had no idea what I was doing or what it meant but I wanted in!

I forced myself to go back, class after class after class and through sweat (always in class) and tears (sometimes in class) I began to find that I actually really wanted to practice. I wanted to be a yogi. Elizabeth has absolutely been a beacon of light for me, the classes began to feel like my safe place and not just Liz’s; i’ve been to so many different instructors at and every one of them brings their own inspirational frequency. Oh my heart might burst with gratitude!  But don’t just take my word for it, check them out. It’s like a tiny slice of nirvana, albeit in Belfast, but hey, maybe that’s even more of a triumph! Going there is like receiving the warmest of hugs from the oldest of friends, and in a way it is because i’m making friends with myself again.

I bought a mat as a commitment to my practice and to my self (and because it was a super sticky one  and I was genuinely afraid of face planting). I began practicing by myself.  I made yogi friends – the most beautiful bunch of beings! I began reading and expanding my knowledge on yoga and meditation and without realising it, the fact I had initially come to the mat so broken had become my greatest virtue. I was cracked so very wide open that I was in a position to learn about and rework the very essence of myself. As Buddhist nun Pema Chodron has said “You must face annihilation over and over again to find what is indestructible in yourself”. That.

I am no expert and lycra will never be a great look for me, but I am in love with this journey that I am on. I am not paralysed by my anxiety. I can breathe again. I can laugh again. I stumble, I fall, sometimes I quite literally face plant my mat (note to self: must find an even stickier mat), but my inner warrior is becoming stronger than my inner demon and I pick myself up again and I want to share this unexpected and beautiful journey in the hope that some other chubby or lost soul might take the courage to invest in themselves. To see through the stereotypes, the self consciousness, the hopelessness and realise how expansive and beautiful their potential truly is. To realise that endings and beginnings can be one and the same. To see that if you service yourself, you can withstand any storm that comes your way. To quote Chodron (again!)

“you are the sky and everything else is just the weather”.