3 Steps to Mastering Chaturanga

Stop cheating through the chaturanga part of your vinyasa. These steps can help you get there and hold it longer and stronger (without sacrificing your shoulders).

3 Steps To Mastering Chaturanga
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Swear you'll never be able to do chaturanga — those triceps push-ups that keep cropping up in yoga class, like in the middle of sun salutation? The secret is not forcing yourself into the full pose first thing. Take the weight off it first, and gradually add it back so the smaller muscles learn to fire and help out. Become chaturanga-comfortable with these moves from Tiffany Cruikshank, founder of Yoga Medicine, a yoga-teacher training company and author of Meditate Your Weight (due out in April) — even if you can't come anywhere near close now.

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Step One: Start Against the Wall

3 Steps To Mastering Chaturanga
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How to do it: Stand facing a wall, about arm's distance from it. Place your hands on the wall at shoulder height. Slowly bend your elbows as far as you can, then push yourself back up.

Secrets to success: Keep your elbows close to your sides — don't let them point away from your body. Maintain a straight line down the side of your body — shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles should be in the same plane. Don't let your shoulders hunch forward. This is a huge key to success.

How many: Do 10 reps, going as low as you can each time. Over time, you'll be able to bend your elbows a little deeper. When you're comfortable bending your elbows at about 90 degrees 10 times (might take a few weeks), progress to the next step.

Step Two: Do a Bent-Knee Version

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How to do it: Come to a plank position with your knees on the floor. Begin by feeling like you're pushing the floor away with your arms — this engages the muscles that stabilize your shoulders. Tilt your sternum slightly toward the front of your mat. Your lumbar spine will curve a bit and your hips will naturally raise a little, but your core is still engaged — your belly's not hanging toward the floor and your muscles are supporting your back. Bend your elbows as far as you can without losing your form, and come back up. As you get better at it, you'll go lower, but don't let your shoulders go lower than the height of your elbows.

Secrets to success: Engage the muscles that wrap around the sides of your ribs before and during the movement. Think of tilting your sternum slightly toward the front of your mat to properly position the shoulder in its socket for this move. Don't let your shoulders curl forward. Hunching puts all your weight in your joints instead of your muscles.

How many: Do 10 reps with as much range of motion as you can get. When you're comfortable doing the full pose (shoulders just above the height of your elbows) 10 times, progress to the full pose.

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Step Three: Go for The Whole Chaturanga

3 Steps To Mastering Chaturanga
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How to do it: Start in a plank position, supporting your weight on your hands and feet. Shift forward to the tips of your toes and feel how you're supporting yourself with all your core muscles, not just your shoulders and toes. From there, keep your elbows close to your sides and bend them a few inches. Push back up. Over time, lower down a little more until your shoulders are slightly above elbow height.

Secrets to success: Think of everything working in concert — you're engaging the muscles on the sides of your ribs as you're keeping your sternum lifted (imagine the front of your chest opening up). This creates energy in both the front and the back of your body, so there's no hunching and no sagging, just a nicely supported pose.

How many: Work up to 10 reps, then don't shy away from them in class. Congrats! You're there — and your shoulders will thank you for the prep you've done to get here the healthy way.

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