How to Do Chaturanga aka a Yoga Push-Up

Spend time getting to know the full-body posture that's crucial to any Vinyasa flow.

How to Do Chaturanga, or a Yoga Push-Up

If you've ever done a yoga class before, you're probably pretty familiar with Chaturanga — also known as a yoga push-up, in which you slowly lower to the ground from a high plank position. While you may do your Chaturangas on autopilot while transitioning between poses, it pays to give the move your full attention. After all, Chaturanga is key for building upper body strength and core stability, and it also helps prep your body for other, more challenging yoga poses.

Here, learn how to do Chaturanga with proper form and the benefits of the exercise, plus modifications to make this yoga push-up easier or harder to fit your practice.

How to Do Chaturanga

"Chaturanga Dandasana translates to four-limbed staff pose," says Heather Peterson, former chief yoga officer at CorePower Yoga. "You have your toes and palms on the ground while your body is a straight plank hovering over the floor with your elbows at a 90-degree angle," she explains.

Even though you've likely seen myriad yoga instructors demonstrate Chaturanga, it pays to study it more in-depth. To see the proper movement pattern, watch the video below in which Paige Willis, yoga instructor and founder of Undone, demonstrates a Chaturanga. Then flow through it on your own using the directions below.

A. Start in a high plank position with shoulders stacked over wrists, hips in line with shoulders, and legs extended long. Palms should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with fingers spread wide.

B. Inhale, shifting forward onto tips of toes. Draw front ribs in and tip hips up to engage core.

C. Bend elbows toward 90 degrees to lower toward the floor. Elbows point straight back and chest and hips lower at the same time.

D. Exhale as palms press into the mat, lifting chest, hovering hips, and straightening arms.

The Key Chaturanga Benefits

Now that you know how to do a perfect yoga push-up, learn more about why this movement is such an integral part of your yoga practice. Here are the biggest benefits of Chaturanga.

Builds a Strong Foundation for Other Yoga Poses

"Chaturanga Dandasana is a foundational movement in any vinyasa yoga class," says Willis. "It strengthens the muscles in your arms, wrists, core, and back — everything you need in order to develop a strong yoga practice."

In fact, you'll likely encounter the Chaturanga several times throughout most yoga classes, since it's part of sun salutations (aka Surya Namaskar). Sun salutations, in case you're not familiar, are a sequence of yoga poses (often featured at the beginning of class) that naturally energize the body and help stretch your muscles for the rest of the practice. By nailing the Chaturanga portion of the sun salutation (and in other portions of your practice), you'll build a better foundation for more difficult poses, such as crow or handstands.

Prepares the Muscles for Challenging Upper-Body Yoga Postures

Chaturanga is one of the most challenging poses in the basic flow of a Vinyasa class. That's because "it's yoga's version of an upper body workout, similar to a push-up," explains Willis. Chaturanga is a go-to move for building your upper-body strength, and you'll definitely feel it in your chest, shoulders, back, triceps, biceps, and forearms. And since Chaturanga works these upper-body muscle groups, focusing on this pose will train and prepare your upper body for advanced arm balances such as the crow, firefly, and hurdler poses.

Is a Full-Body Exercise

Similar to a plank, Chaturanga also hits your core muscles, but you need to remember to engage your leg muscles to make this full-body, says Peterson. You'll work your legs when you use them to help you distribute the force of the move throughout your body.

"My biggest tip for a strong Chaturanga Dandasana variation is to distribute the work evenly throughout your body," adds Willis. Translation: Chaturanga may be a primarily upper-body move, but your entire body should be engaged to shoulder some of that weight (literally). Remember to actively press the ground away while in high plank, engage your core (which helps protect your back), and squeeze your glutes and quads, recommends Willis.

Chaturanga Variations

Remember, your yoga practice is just that — yours. "There are so many reasons to modify a vinyasa," emphasizes Willis. "You might want to focus on getting your alignment in check, building strength, protecting an injury, or recovering after an upper body day. So anytime you practice, notice where your body is at, what it's capable of, and what it needs. Then, flow from there."

Whether you're looking to build heat in your Chaturanga or you're craving a restorative practice, there's a Chaturanga variation that can meet your needs. Try these modifications and progressions to start.

Modification: Chaturanga On the Knees

If you have wrist pain, try using blocks under your hands or large weights to take the bend out of your wrist. If you have shoulder pain or feel your low back or hips dipping down, come down to your knees after you shift forward in the pose.

You can also take Chaturanga on your knees, as Willis demonstrates below. As you lower from a high plank to a low plank, drop your knees to rest on the floor before lowering your chest all the way to the mat.

Progression: Double Chaturanga Variation

Mastered the pose already? Try lifting one leg off the mat or taking a chin stand as you shift forward to make it even more advanced. Or, experiment with completing two consecutive yoga push-ups before flowing into your next pose, as Willis demonstrates below.

Common Chaturanga Mistakes

To make sure you're firing all the upper-body muscles, while in plank, imagine rotating your palms externally to fire up the muscles between and on the back of your shoulder blades. Also, make sure to turn the inner crease of elbows forward and point elbows back. Engage your quads and draw your inner thighs together to activate the leg muscles and make the movement full-body.

Finally, be cautious of your lower back sagging as your move from high plank to low plank. If you feel your hips lowering toward the ground before your chest does, modify by doing Chaturanga on your knees to avoid injury.

How to Add Chaturanga to Your Routine

Since Chaturanga is already a common part of most yoga flows (thanks to its spot in sun salutations and in various transitions), an easy way to add the yoga push-up to your routine is simply by taking more Vinyasa-style yoga classes, advises Willis. "In these classes, you'll likely also practice Downward Facing Dog and High Plank, which are great poses to help you continue to build upper body strength," she adds. And off the mat, you can also work on building strength in your triceps, pectorals, and core muscles to make Chaturanga a little easier.

Regardless of whether you take Chaturanga on your knees or on your toes, perfecting the yoga push-up will help enhance your entire yoga practice, says Willis. "Embrace modified variations of the movement as you get used to it, and focus on your alignment as you build your strength up," she explains. "Chaturanga Dandasana requires a lot of upper body work, so be patient with yourself!"

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