In the Ashtanga yoga practice, Chatarunga (low plank pose) is a posture we do over and over again. Primary series has this posture repeated 50 times. Yes 50! Performed correctly, it can strengthen and tone the wrists, arms, abdominal muscles, and, improve your posture by strengthening the muscles surrounding the spine. Performed incorrectly, it can lead to unnecessary tension in the shoulders and neck, as well as pain and weakening of the lower back. So alignment is key!
Below are 3 of the common mistakes I witness students do when practising Chatarunga:
Chatarunga is a very strong pose and does require a lot of strength in the upper body, as well as in the core.
When doing this pose, it is very common to let the shoulder droop forward, and to come down to just inches off the ground when in low plank.
The correct way to do this posture, is to have the upper and lower arms perpendicular to each other, and bent at 90 degrees at the elbows. When doing this, you will notice that you don’t need to come down so low towards the ground when in chatarunga. Roll the shoulders back and press the shoulder blades down your back to remove unnecessary tension in the shoulders and neck.
Keep your gaze at the tip of your nose, and make sure your head stays on a long neck.
When new to yoga and Sun Salutations, it can be common for the elbows to bend out to the side as we build the upper body strength to come down properly to half plank.
If you are new to this posture, start by doing a modified version of low plank, where you bring your knees to the ground, tilt the pelvis toward and lower the elbows to a 90 degree angle. While doing this, still keep your elbows paper thin away from your body and bend the elbows backward as you come down (instead of out to the sides). This should be practised until you have enough upper body strength to come down to chatarunga with the right technique.
Often people practice chatarunga with a banana shaped back, with the buttocks high up in the air and the core unengaged. This can cause a lot of pain and weakness in the lower spine.
What you should be doing instead is focus on creating a straight long line parallel to the ground, with your elbows at right angles. To do this, tuck your tailbone under, engage your gluteus gently, and draw your belly button in towards the spine. This will engage the core and help you come down to low plank correctly. Instead of rushing from high to low plank, practice doing it slowly and focus on engaging all the required areas in your body.
When the body tires, it can be very easy to loose your alignment. You may perform the first or second chatarunga correctly, and then fall back into old habits after that. The key to changing these habits is to think consciously about the alignment each and every time you’re in chatarunga. At the beginning it will be difficult, but in time, these techniques will form your new practice.