Yogis: Please Stop Pinning Your Elbows To Your Ribs In Chaturanga (Chaturanga Part 1)

Somewhere in yoga’s lexicon this cue was born. Who knows where or when, but teachers everywhere repeat it without explanation.

Maybe this alignment cue is intended to help the yoga practitioner draw strength into her midline, to connect the power of her limbs to her torso. Or maybe it’s meant to help her keep more weight on the inner edges of her palms for wrist and hand stability.

But one thing is for sure: pinning your elbows to your ribs in Chaturanga Dandasana will wreck your shoulders.

 Safe Shoulders

While elbow alignment is relevant to the overall pose, it’s peripheral compared to the shoulders.

Stable shoulder alignment is found through the complex, combined actions of keeping the sides of the torso long (which actually floats the shoulders up nearer the ears), the chest lifted and open, the scapulae (shoulder blades) retracted onto the back and the head of the humerus (upper arm bones) back.

Sitting or standing, try to accomplish these actions while you pin your elbows to your ribcage. It’s nearly impossible!

We’ve written extensively about the shoulders, and the alignment listed above —if you want to learn more, check out these links:

 Shoulders First, Elbows Second

Getting your arm bones back is often instructed through talking about external rotation in the arms or the alignment of the elbow creases. These are components of the pose, but, again, are peripheral to the shoulders true work in Low Plank (or any yoga posture).

If you move from your shoulders, however, the alignment of the elbows will take care of itself.

Practice this safe shoulder alignment as best you can:

  • Lengthen your sides
  • Open your chest
  • Draw your shoulder blades onto your back
  • Roll your outer shoulders back

Chances are your elbows are already somewhat near your sides just by working your shoulders. If not, gently draw your elbows in enough to keep them from winging wide, but not so much your shoulders roll forward or your chest collapses.

These actions become more challenging when you bear weight on your arms. They become more complex in the transition form High Plank to chaturanga.

Give it a try seated, or standing, and see how it feels. If all feels well, move on to the pose with knees down, or the full experience, with straight legs.

Regardless, we’ll go over that transiton in our next article on this topic…


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