What I learned at yoga school this week: I have been doing chaturanga completely wrong for 10 years and nobody ever told me!
For those of you unfamiliar with the pose, it is basically a yoga style push up in which you keep your elbows parallel and snuggled in tight to your chest. You lower yourself from a plank pose to about 90 degrees, pause, the push yourself directly back up to a position in which your arms are straight, your back is concave, and your knees are off the floor. The photo may give you some idea.
So what was I doing? Well, not chaturanga. I was lowering down completely to my abdomen from plank pose, plopping on to the floor for a quick break, and then pushing up to that straight-arm/concave back position. This seems like a small little modification, no big deal, just correct it.
For those of you who have been doing it correctly, you will know that this is not small. The amount of upper body and core strength needed to do this correctly is significantly larger than what is needed for whatever pose I was doing. That means that all of a sudden, on day one of yoga teacher training, I had to somehow find ten times more strength than I currently possessed to start doing the pose correctly. This is a wee little issue for me at the moment since I now weigh 15 pounds more than I did last month, on account of the mini yogini I am carrying in my uterus. Uggghhh, my body was weeping by the end of the first 90 minutes.
My ego, however remained intact. I was not the only student in the room with this misconception. As it turns out, our instructor told us that they often see people come to yoga teacher training with a completely inadequate chaturanga. I immediately got on the phone after class to take an informal poll of all the yogis I know (about three), and my preliminary research confirmed that they were all as surprised as me.
How can this be? It’s a foundational pose that is done about 20 times per class in every class across the country. How are so many of us getting it wrong for so long? Is it poor instruction or poor leaners?
I say both.
I think yoga instruction, at least in big cities in this country, has become so co-modified in order to become the multi-billion dollar industry that it is today, that instructors are too distracted to really pay attention to the nuts and bolts of the poses, are too worried about pissing off students and losing money, or think it just doesn’t matter because people are only there to get tight abs anyway. Most studios offer classes whose names are nothing more than long list of adjectives and body parts with the word yoga thrown at the end. I’ve seen ’80’s Yoga, ’90’s Yoga, Ganja Yoga, Super Power Ab Buster Yoga, Yummy Tummy Yoga. Such classes don’t really lend themselves to getting down to the nitty-gritty basics of foundational poses.
As a student, I also take full responsibility for not paying enough attention to truly talented teachers I have had. I am quite certain that at some point someone did show me how to do a chaturanga properly, so why did my brain see something else? Was I too distracted by my own life to be fully present in class? Did I block out the correct way to do it because the short cut I was taking was much easier and more enjoyable?
Deep breath! Inhale, exhale. Its ok, I am here now. The good news is, after a week and a half of forcing myself to do chaturanga with proper form every day (like 10,000 times!) I have grown enormously in strength. Imagine that, if you do what the yogis told us to do thousands of years ago, good things happen. In fact, I suspect that having proper form for this one, silly, foundational pose will provide for me the key I have been waiting for to unlock poses which have alluded me for years. That is TBD for now.
The larger life lesson here is that, when you are stuck and need to make progress, you may want to consider that what you believe to be the truth is not as truthy as you thought. In order to move forward, we should try to have the mind of a newborn. The mind of a beginner won’t do it. Beginners still learn through the filter of their own experience. We need to just be silent observers, taking it all in with wonder and a total lack of expectation. Yes, we might need to have some humility for this. And we will certainly need a little bravery when we discover that what we thought was serving us was futile. It will only hurt for a moment, though, and after that moment has passed who knows how far we can go.
Now I have to ask myself, what else have I gotten all wrong?