Why Are Yoga Pushups (Chaturanga) So Difficult?

Your yoga practice opens with a welcoming period of calm centering followed by invigorating breath work.  The teacher guides you into a gentle series of cat and cow poses and eases you into mountain pose (tadasana).  Immediately your mind drifts and pleads….”Oh g-d, pleeease no pushups today.” Reset, you are ready – filled with confidence and awareness.  Deep breath in… your arms and gaze rise with grace and intention.  Mindfully, you exhale and fold into utanasana (standing forward bend).  As you inhale to extend the spine and prepare for your step back…it comes – the yoga pushup! Oy!

Chaturanga is a fundamental and powerful yoga posture to perform – one which requires your full attention .  Over time, without strength and proper alignment, chronic, even acute injuries can develop.  Injury from yoga practice often generates a negative energy feedback causing us to experience our yoga practice as counter productive torture instead of a nurturing and healing experience. How do we learn to move through chaturanga with the steadfast calm of suka and stira (effort and ease)? Here are 5 key reasons why yoga pushups feel so difficult and some of the common alignment issues:

1)  Yoga Pushups are triceps muscle dominant

The hand position from downward facing dog to chaturanga is a narrow arm stance.  Due to the close (shoulder width) position of the arms, the chest muscles (which are the largest and strongest anterior upper body muscle group) are not able to effectively engage and support this pose.  Therefore, the muscle loading is shifted to the much smaller and often much weaker (particularly for women) triceps and front shoulder muscles.

2)  Yoga pushups can cause shoulder girdle destabilization

If the triceps and front shoulder muscles do not have sufficient strength to perform the pose and the transition to the floor, the body instinctively tries to incorporate the chest muscles.  One of the actions of chest muscle contraction is internal rotation of the upper arm (humorous) bone.  In a proper yoga pushup descent, we want the elbows and upper arms to be flush to the ribs.  However, when the chest muscles are engaged to compensate for weak arms and shoulders, this internal rotation action from the chest muscles pulls the upper arms and elbows outwards.  This often leads to the shoulder blades pulling forward, a ‘winging of the shoulder blades, and a cascading destabilization; all of which can lead to injury in the musculature supporting the shoulder girdle.

3)  Yoga pushups can cause wrist compression injuries

The same internal rotation of the upper arm by the chest muscles carries down the arm.  As the elbows flow outwards from the ribs, this pulls on the lower arm bone that transmits all the way into the wrist and hand.  We often see an excessive ‘doming’ of the hands so much so that the index finger pads and thumb pads lift from the mat.  This generates an imbalanced shift of weight to the outer wrist.  With repeated improper wrist loading, chronic compression issues often surface.

4)  Yoga pushups can promote spinal compression

As the shoulder girdle goes through destabilization, the musculature of the core is often neglected.  This is presented as unwanted lordotic curvature of the spine as we hold Chaturanga and even more so during the pushup descent.  For some, the gravitational load of the organs during this lordotic position can cause spinal compression.  The other concern with this core collapse is the next yoga pose.  Often Chaturanga is followed by upward facing dog pose or cobra pose.  Without proper core and bandha engagement, the earlier collapse of the lower spine is readily taken into these back arches.

5)  Let’s not forget about your head and neck

Most people already suffer from chronic neck tension issues.  When we lose shoulder stability in Chaturanga and feel a flood of struggle, the immediate reaction is for the head to drop towards the floor.  We watch the floor coming and instinctively want it to come faster.  Our visual sense of the floor pulls our skull closer to the ground resulting in the loss of the neutral neck curvature.  The neck, over repeated improper yoga pushups, develops body memory of this posture.  When we are then in upright positions like sitting, the head chronically shifts forward.  The neck musculature struggles to hold the head in this improper line with the spine and consequently develops more and more muscle tension.

So how do we modify yoga pushups to prevent these alignment issues?

1)    Before setting up Chaturanga and descending, set your hands wider (slightly broader than shoulder width).  This will enable your chest muscles to engage without causing shoulder girdle destabilization.

2)    Always visualize your shoulder blades hugging into and down the ribs, thus retaining the integrity of the stabilization muscles.

3)    Maintain a continuous reaching motion down the index fingers, keeping the index finger pads grounded.

4)    Look slightly forward a few inches forward of your finger tips and visualize your head floating away from the ground.  Keep a neutral neck line to support the upper spine.

5)    Contain your belly by maintaining mild abdominal contraction.  Use your exhale to help promote contraction of the core musculature.

6)    Place your knees on the floor.  Reduce the load on the upper body by placing some of your lower body weight on the ground.  This is ideal especially when you decide to try the traditional closed hand variation and developing strength in the triceps muscles.

You may also like:

Whats For Fitness – PUSHUPS!

Push Beyond Your Ordinary Pushup

Pushup For Life Video Workout

Pushup Moves!

Some of the information in this article – courtesy of My Yoga Online

© Copyright 2011  Allison Stuart Kaplan  www.Askinyourface.com LLC

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  1. Kint Verbal says:

    They are among the easiest push-ups one can do. If you ask “why are they so difficult” it’s clear the answer is bad physical shape. Try any other variation (military, diamond, hindu, plyo) and they will seem even more difficult.

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