Alternatives to Chaturanga Dandasana

As a Power Vinyasa Yoga instructor, I am well acquainted with the posture/transition Chaturanga Dandasana; well enough to have decided to have a restricted relationship with it.  Chaturanga Dandasana, also known as High to Low Plank which typically proceeds an Upward Facing Dog, is a challenging movement that indeed tests and strengthens shoulders, arms, chest, and upper back.  It is, however, a movement that requires proper form in order to be effective and not destructive.  Additionally, it is a transition that is often overused with many Power Vinyasa Yoga classes containing 25-30 Chaturangas or more per class.

 As yoga has risen in prominence and we have begun to apply more scientific theory and critical thought to the practice of yoga, we have discovered that the prominence of Chaturanga Dandasanas in Vinyasa Yoga can create complications for many practioncers, chief among them pain in the shoulders, elbows, and wrists.  Why?

  • Compression – Chaturanga Dandasana and Upward Facing Dog together create a good amount of compression in the shoulders and wrists even when form is optimal.
  • Form – Suboptimal form when performing Chaturanga Dandasana equates to the straining of muscles, ligaments, and tendons leading to inflammation.  Unfortunately, many practioncers – even advanced students – do not have optimal form in Chaturanga Dandasana.  Even those who do have optimal form may begin to sacrifice that form once fatigue sets in after dozens of Chaturangas have been offered in the class.
  • Repetition – Too much repetition of ANY movement can result in injury and complication.  Science tells us that when we use parts of bodies in one particular way too often while neglecting to counterbalance with other movements it can create reoccurring stress which will manifest as inflammation and injury.

In a Power Vinyasa yoga class, we can have all of the above happening at once.  And if a practioncer is partaking in Chaturanga Dandasana bountiful yoga classes multiple times per week, the above complications will be amplified.

 And so myself and many other yoga instructors of migrated away from defaulting to Chaturanga Dandasana and instead opted for other transitions and postures.  Incorporating alternatives to Chaturanga comes with a multitude of benefits, chief among them:

  • Variety – Science tells us that moving in a variety of ways – Dynamic Movement – optimizes mobility and overall health by introducing vectors and forces that work to ensure the body is strong at every angle and capable of all types of movement as oppose to just a few.
  • Neuroplasticity – Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to form and reorganize synaptic connections in response to learning and experience. When we present the brain with new movements to learn and experience, our brains work to carve out new neural pathways, and this helps to keep neuroplasticity optimized long term. (Yoga and dance are great practices for Neuroplasticity)
  • Presence – The introduction of various transitions and postures in a Vinyasa Yoga class inspires us to be more present in the practice because we are not following a familiar or even memorized routine and therefore cannot just go through the motions.
  • Fun! – It is both challenging and fun to try out different transitions and postures in the yoga class.

    Now, none of this is to say that Chaturanga Dandasana is wrong or bad.  After all, when used correctly Chaturanga Dandasana can also be dynamic movement.  However, knowing the complications Chaturanga Dandasana can present when being taught dozens of times, multiple days per week, I think it is advantageous for more Vinyasa Yoga instructors to offer alternatives. 

*Note: What about teaching Chaturanga Dandasana and giving students the option to skip the movement?
I have found that even when I offer this option, many students – particularly those that really do need a break from Chaturangas – will perform the movement out of habit or even ego.  And so, I typically opt to take Chaturanga Dandasana out of the equation.

Below are a few of my favorite Alternatives to Chaturanga Dandasana.  These Alternatives still provide a path back to Downward Facing Dog in the middle of a Vinyasa Flow whilst also offering new challenges and benefits.


Active Seal Pose

Arguably the best part of a Chaturanga Dandasna to Upward Facing Dog to Downward Facing Dog combination is the Upward Facing Dog which stretches the chest and belly and strengthens the upper and middle back.  Active Seal provides the same frontal stretch and lateral strengthening but passes on the compression of Chaturanga Dandasana and the additional compression Upward Facing Dog places on the wrists. Additionally, this pose flows easily and seems like a natural path back to Downward Facing Dog.

How to:

From Plank Pose –

Inhale – Active Seal

  • Drop knees to the floor
  • Curl your heels to your glutes
  • Straighten your arms
  • Lift your chest

Exhale – Downward Facing Dog

  • Land your already tucked toes on the ground
  • Lift your hips up and back
  • Gaze between your feet

Core Stabilizers

I never want my students to feel as though they are missing out on a more challenging work out because of the absence of Chaturangas in my class. So I like to have my Chaturanga Alternatives provide challenges of their own. For me, Vinyasa Yoga is all about core work, and few things challenge the core more than these Core Stabilizers! Here again, this movement easily transitions to Downward Facing Dog.

How to:

From Plank Pose

Inhale – Core Stabilizer

  • Lift right arm forward and your left leg back
  • Square your hips to the ground
  • Pull your abdominals in
  • Shrug your right shoulder blade and your left glute towards on another

Exhale – Downward Facing Dog

  • Place your right hand and your left foot down
  • Lift your hips up and back

Note: Invert rights and lefts for the other side.


Falling Star

This sequence is sure to challenge you and your students with upper body and core work! As a more complex string of movements, this is a fantastic one for neuroplasticity.

How to:

From Lunge or Plank Pose

Inhale – One Legged High Plank

  • Lift your right leg up and back

Exhale – Knee across body

  • Draw your right knee to your left elbow

Exhale – Falling Star

  • Extend your right leg out to the side
  • Turn your hips and chest up
  • Reach your left arm up

Inhale

Exhale – Bring your left hand down

Inhale – 3 Legged Dog

Exhale – Downward Facing Dog

Note: Invert rights and lefts for the other side.


Windshield Wiper Drills

Sometimes in place of Chaturanga Dandasana, I like to offer a muscle action drill which trains the body in strength and stamina. This sequence is sure to challenge you and your students with upper body and core work! As a more complex string of movements, this is a fantastic one for neuroplasticity.

How to:

From Lunge or Plank Pose

Inhale – One Legged High Plank

•           Lift your right leg up and back

Exhale – Knee across body

•           Draw your right knee to your left elbow

Inhale – Draw your knee to your right elbow

Exhale – Back to the left elbow

Repeat the movement several times

Inhale – 3 Legged Dog

Exhale – Downward Facing Dog

Note: Invert rights and lefts for the other side.


Side Plank with Extended Bottom Leg

Plank to Side Plank to Down Dog is a challenging and smooth sequence of postures on its own. Now add in the extension of the bottom leg in Side Plank and you have a smooth transition with a major core challenge in it! This is a great chain of movements to incorporate into a class with an oblique focus.

How to:

From Plank Pose

Inhale – Side Plank

  • Power down into your right hand
  • Roll open to the left
  • Stack your hips and shoulders
  • Reach your left hand up to the sky

Exhale – Extend Bottom Leg

  • Kick your right leg out to the side and hover it from the ground

Inhale – Reach your left arm

Exhale – Downward Facing Dog

  • Land your left hand
  • Square your shoulders and hips down
  • Send your right foot back
  • Lift your hips up and back

Note: Invert rights and lefts for the other side.


Sphinx Pose

Sphinx is one of my favorite poses for stretching the front line of the body and strengthening the back line of the body. Using this in place of a Chaturanga Dandasana-Upward Facing Dog-Downward Facing Dog sequence is not as quick, but it is effective and feels great.

How to:

From Plank Pose

Exhale – Forearm Plank

  • Lower down to your forearms
  • Bring your elbows underneath your shoulders
  • Bring your arms parallel like the number 11

Inhale – Sphinx Pose

  • Lower your hip bones to the ground
  • Untuck your toes
  • Lift your chest
  • Gaze forward and down
  • Breathe here for a couple rounds of breath

Exhale – Forearm Plank

  • Tuck your toes
  • Lift your hips in line with your shoulders

Inhale – Plank Pose

  • Plant one hand down at a time under your shoulders
  • Straighten your arms

Exhale – Downward Facing Dog

  • Lift your hips up and back


View all tutorials in 1 video here –

Conclusion

These are just a few poses, transitions, and sequences you can use in place of Chaturanga Dandasana to offer new challenges for body and mind.  Again, I do not wish to demonize Chaturanga Dandasana. We can absolutely still do and teach Chaturanga Dandasana, we can even still do Chaturanga Dandasana heavy classes from time to time, it still has a place in our lives.  I simply offer the science that incorporating other varieties of movements into our practices and teachings is advantageous and the opinion that doing so can be fun too!

Did you enjoy learning these Alternatives to Chaturanga? Do you have others you would like to share? Let me know in the comments.

*Disclaimer – While I believe all of these yoga postures and transitions to be safe, I take no responsibility for any injuries or ailments sustained for practicing them. If you practice, you practice at your own risk.

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