Happy Labor Day everyone! Though this holiday means a lot of things to many, for me it marks a time of transition. Summer transitions into fall, pools close, kids go back to school etc…
So in honor of this day of transition, I thought we might cover one of the most used and abused asana transitions in yoga. Chaturanga Dandasana to Upward Dog (Urdva Mukha Svanasana) is featured heavily in most flow/vinayasa styles and many many yoga classes in America. Most people do it wrong.
Wrong isn’t a word I use much in yoga – there are many variations and expressions of asana. But because you can really hurt yourself in chaturanga and upward dog, I think the ‘W’ word is appropriate. The lovely folks at Yoga Tune Up have named chaturanga the shoulder shredder because of how many people injure their shoulders doing it. You almost never see upward dog performed in a way that protects the lower back.
So why cover this transition? Well I think the ubiquity of it in classes demands that we address it AND I found a fabulous way to teach these two poses and the transition safely that makes me really excited.
Hello Bolster! You need a fairly thick square bolster for this. If you need more height you can add a folded blanket on top of your bolster.
You’ll start in plank pose over the bolster set up, positioned so that your torso will land onto the bolster when you lower into chaturanga. My chest will move forward slighly when I lower.
To come into chaturanga supported on the bolster, I bend my elbows straight back (slowly we hope and with control). My form isn’t perfect here, but the bolster keeps me from collapsing so it’s safe.
Here I am in supported chaturanga. My butt is a little higher up in the air than it should be – but I’m going to blame the bolster for that since my torso is totally supported onto it. Here I can work on perfecting my chaturanga shape – bringing my elbows in close to the body and engaging my core and legs, without worrying about holding myself up. We’re also signalling to our muscle memory that this is how chaturanga should feel so that when we do it unsupported, we know where to go.
Now, we will transition into upward dog. All you have to do is flip your feet so that the tops of your feet are pressing into the mat, push down through your hands and raise yourself up to upward dog. The majority of the body doesn’t move! This is huge for keeping the transition out of the lower back.
I taught this the other day and a student who’d been practicing for a long time looked a little befuddled. “Wait,” she said. “You don’t lower to the ground between chaturanga and upward dog?” I said no and explained that coming all the way to the ground and then trying to heave yourself back up into upward dog was a good way to make your back really unhappy. She didn’t say anything else so I invited her to try the transition unsupported but to keep her body off the ground the entire time (as if the bolster were still there). After trying it my way she looked at me and said, ” Wow, I didn’t feel that in my lower back at. all.” I smiled and said that was the idea.
I am thrilled that my teachers have given me the tools to handle this difficult transition and I think it’s really important to pass the knowledge along. Let me know how trying it (or teaching it) went in the comments!