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!