Jumping Back to Chatturanga

There is a troubling trend I'm seeing in yoga classes: jumping from uttanasana (standing forward fold) into plank.  Where are people learning this?! Not in my classes!

This is a really risky move.  The shock of jumping back with locked out arms, is hard on your shoulders, elbows, wrists, and even the spine.  You might say that you always jump back to plank and it feels fine, but if you're doing vinyasa style practices several days a week, jumping back like that all the time... not good!  Vinyasa classes are primo places for repetitive stress injury because, chances are, you are doing elventy hundred "vinyasas" every week, and that will cause wear and tear on your joints if you're not paying attention.  Just because it's yoga doesn't mean it's necessarily safe or good for your individual body.  So what to do?

Jumping back to Chatturanga

Ah yes. Chatturanga Dandasana.  We so often try to cheat our way through it in our yoga practices because it is HARD.  First, a few alignment pointers for Chattruanga.

  1. Elbows over wrists. Rules of physics say this makes sense.  Keep this in mind for arm balances like bakasana (crow).  This is a good foundation and gravity will transfer weight straight down your armbone, with minimal pressure on the wrist.  To make this happen, I like to give a little push forward with my toes in plank before I lower down.
  2. Don't lower more than halfway.  This is "past the point of no return" for many people.  It's hard to push back up from there! Also, this puts undo strain on the rotator cuff.  It's not necessary.  Your upper arms should not dip down below parallel with the floor.  If halfway is still too much for you, maybe just bend 1/3 of the way, or if you're still building strength, an inch or two.
  3. Find your wings! hugging elbows to ribs is the traditional way of doing this pose, however, it does not work for every body.  I have to have my hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart in Plank, Down Dog, and Chatturanga for my shoulders to be happy.  That means my elbows go out a little bit, and that's OK.
  4. Belly in and up the whole time!  This is the hard part.  But it will make it easier on the arms and shoulders, so it's a fair trade.
  5. If this is impossibly hard for you, do the whole shebang with your knees down.  Belly still pulls in and up though!  Once you're comfortable holding chatturanga for five breaths or so, you should be well on your way to jumping back like a ninja.

How to jump back:

  1. In uttanasana, place your hands shoulder-width apart next to your feet so that your elbows are already over your wrists.  Your shoulders will probably be forward of your wrists and that's OK.  Bend your knees as much as you need to to get your palms down.
  2. Inhale, lengthen your spine. 
  3. Exhale, pull your belly in and up as hop your feet back.  Land with bent elbows or bending elbows to your happy place in chatturanga.
  4. Flip over to the tops of the feet and inhale to upward facing dog. 

Here's a video where I break all this down:

Give it a try!  If jumping back to chatturanga is not your jam, STEP back to plank, then work on your chatturanga or bypass the whole vinyasa nonsense and head straight back to downward facing dog.