You’ve been to a yoga class where the teacher let’s the class know that they can now do their vinyasa, a full chaturanga if you’re a ‘good’ yogi, and if you’re ‘not’ you can take Knees, Chest, Chin.
This is the easier modification. Butts in the sky, shoulders crashing to the floor, necks creasing and arms flailing. Doesn’t sound easy or nice on the body – and THIS is why I don’t teach KNEES CHEST CHIN ANYMORE.
Full Chaturanga Dandasana is hard. It’s bloody hard. And one of the reasons why it’s so hard and so many people never get strong enough to be able to do it properly is because they’ve been doing the modification of knees chest chin.
A modified version of a yoga pose is made more accessible by using props, taking less weight out of changing some of the components so more students can access the benefits of the posture.
BENEFITS OF CHATURANGA
- Builds strength
- Helps build focus
- Opens the chest
- Combines breath and movement
- Fluid and relaxing
- Develops flexibility
Does the modification knees, chest, chin do any of this?
For most people the answer is a resounding NO!
I used to teach KCC as a modification for Chaturanga. I had been taught it by ALL of my yoga teachers, I had learnt it at my yoga teacher training and I never thought to question it. BUT I always felt uncomfortable doing this modification. So much so that I forced myself to learn the ‘harder’ version so that I wouldn’t have to do the ‘easier’ version of knees chest chin.
My body was telling me something that my brain was yet to fully understand.
It is important to have modifications for chaturanga no matter what stage of your yoga practice you’re in. This is because as a class progresses or as you deal with aches and pains you may want to swap out the more dynamic chaturanga for a less demanding alternative. But it’s NOT knees chest chin.
Below are my main reasons for not practicing this pose. Whether you’re a student or a yoga teacher I want you to consider how this feels on your own body and how it might feel on someone who doesn’t have strength, awareness or control of their body yet! Then you can decide if it’s really an option you want to take.
1. KNEES-CHEST-CHIN CREATES BAD HABITS.
There are A LOT of bad habits when it comes to a chaturanga. It is also one of the most repeated postures in a vinyasa class – not ideal really is it? One of the most common misalignments in chaturanga is dipping the shoulders below the elbows.
Why does this matter? Don’t we want to get as low as we can to show how strong we are? No. The answer on so many levels is no.
First, Chaturanga is a very tricky posture, as there is so much to keep in mind with what you’re doing with your body while practicing. But if you can remember one thing it is that your shoulders should never go lower than your elbows.
Chaturanga is a weight-bearing pose (this means your muscles are holding the weight of your body), and because of this one of the most important parts of chaturanga alignment is to maintain stability in the shoulder joint.
Yeah, but like how do you do that?
To achieve stability you want to keep the head of the humerus (the upper arm bone) in its “perfect fit” within the shoulder socket. One of the reasons this is so important is because the socket of the joint is very small so the muscles are responsible for stabilising the bone.
So what this means is that we don’t want to allow the front of the shoulder to dip below the elbow joint because we then start to aggravate the shoulder muscles and can cause strains or tears.
So if you’ve taken that all in it’s pretty obvious WHY knees chest chin is no good for the shoulders. Because when you take knees-chest-chin, you completely destabilise the shoulder joint.
By first placing the knees to the ground and then keeping the tailbone lifted as the chest is released to the floor, the head of the humerus reaches far below the elbow joint. Which causes the shoulders to round and you then dump the weight of the whole torso onto the vulnerable shoulder joint with none of the protective muscles engaged.
This is a BIG FAT no no!
Not only that but if your teacher keeps instructing this modification you start to believe that dropping the shoulders is what you’re meant to do. It reinforces into the practitioner’s muscle memory of the exact movement of the shoulders we want to avoid.
2. KNEES-CHEST-CHIN causes AN OVERLOAD OF PRESSURE ON THE NECK AND LOWER BACK.
Alright I want you to visualise or just do the position of KCC. This is where you have your knees on the floor, bum in the sky and chest and chin on the floor. Your tailbone is reaching skywards with the upper portion of the spine on the ground creates a pretty intense backbend.
If you’re flexible this might be okay but for many yogis, especially if they’re new, this can cause compression in the lumbar spine (lower back). This can also create a pretty intense hinge in the back of your neck (cervical spine).
When we take our chin to the floor, the posture creates a hyperextension of the cervical spine, crunching back through the neck. This never felt right in my neck and would sometimes even give me headaches.
3. KNEES-CHEST-CHIN IS NOT GONNA STRENGTHEN THOSE ARMS FOR CHATURANGA.
One of the things that makes chaturanga so difficult is the strength that is required. Well newsflash, KCC isn’t going to help you get there any faster. When you take the chest down to the floor and keep the bum high you only collapse through the shoulder joint, which means the muscles give up and can’t work. This muscle disengagement certainly doesn’t not help to get those arms prepared for the smooth and graceful chaturanga you’re aiming for.
When we place the knees on the floor while releasing the chest down and keeping your butt butt high we also completely let go of our core muscles. When this happens it won’t be supporting any forward or downward movement of your body.
So what is doing the work in kness-chest-chin if it’s not our shoulders or our core? Well folks that would be good ol’gravity that’s getting a workout – not you!
So what can we do instead?
KNEES DOWN, HALF PRESS UP
This is a great beginner alternative or for someone looking to gain shoulder stability and arm strength.
To practice, begin in a high plank position and softly lower your knees to the floor without bringing them forward, so that your knees land behind the line of your hips.
Activate your core so that your belly and hips do not sag toward the mat, instead creating a strong, long line from the crown of your head to your seat.
Shift the weight and shoulders slightly forward to start and then start to bend your elbows (elbows pointing behind you) and stop when you hit 90 degrees OR when you feel that you can’t go lower. Press into the whole hand and with control press back up without locking out the elbow.
CHATURANGA OVER A BOLSTER
Another “easier” alternative to chaturanga, this position requires the use of a bolster, which admittedly may not always be available or accessible in a fast-paced flow practice but great for home practice.
But this is an excellent option for learning the muscle memory needed for full chaturanga without the burden of too much weight-bearing.
To practice, begin in a high plank position with a bolster placed underneath your chest, running lengthwise on your mat. Activate your core, and again shift your weight forward and shift so that your shoulders have moved past your wrist creases.
Lengthen from the crown of your head to your heels; and as you exhale, slowly bend your elbows. Maintain your core strength as you lower your torso to rest over the bolster. Allow the bolster to support the majority of your weight, but maintain the engagement throughout your body to build strength in this position.
CHATURANGA OVER BLOCKS
A slightly more challenging variation than the bolster version, working chaturanga over blocks is an excellent way to strengthen all the right muscles and build muscle memory for the prop-less version of the pose.
To practice, once again begin in a high plank position, this time with two blocks slightly forward of your hands. Activate your core, elongate from head to toe, and shift your weight forward until your shoulders move just past your wrists.
From here, once again bend your elbows directly toward the back of your mat as you lower in one piece to rest your shoulders onto your perfectly placed blocks.
Make sure that the height of your blocks does not allow your shoulders to move below the line of your elbows.