Hack the Brain to Stabilize Your Chaturanga

A yoga push up, or Chaturanga Dandasana/Low Plank/4 Limbed Staff, is commonly used in many styles of yoga.   It’s a great strength building pose, plus it activates a lot of stabilizer muscles:

 

Think of it like your entire back, from your neck down to your heel, is pulling you up, and your chest and core have become your legs and are holding you up.  For a full breakdown check it out here.

As you can see from the active muscles above core stability plays a huge factor in being able to accomplish this pose.  If your core lacks proper stability, this stress often becomes imposed into your shoulder joints.

The stabilizer muscles of the shoulders now have to work harder because the trunk is not stable.  Like this guy, the Serratus Anterior:

serratus

Serratus Anterior: the muscle in your armpit: it lies over your ribs along the outside rim of your armpit.

One of the primary functions of your Serratus Anterior is to stabilize your scapula when you reach and carry things.  He also helps lock the shoulder from moving when you hold a Plank.  If the trunk is unstable, the shoulder moves more and imposes a lot of stress into this area, the neck and the arms.

Chaturanga Dandasana is a lot of precious syllables to say when it comes to specifically cueing core stability.  Thankfully, there is an easier way that allows you to get core stability, without the need of a million cues to get into it.  It only requires activating your self awareness 😉

Which leads us to the question:

How do we teach people to become self-aware enough to self-stabilize their trunk in a Chaturanga?

Let’s turn to developmental motor control, AKA how you as a baby learned to control your body in order to lift up, sit up, crawl around, and walk via your relationship to the ground.

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First stop the brain!


Proprioception

Proprioception is your sense of self in relation to the ground.  It’s how your brain perceives you in space, upholding yourself against gravity.

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Your whole body is full of nerve cells called Proprioceptors.  They are mainly interwoven into your fascia, skin, muscles, and joints.  Your organs even have them!

The purpose of these nerve cells is to relay back to your brain:

  • Where your body is positioned
  • How it’s balancing and staying upright
  • If your body is moving and how quickly

After taking all this information in, your brain then relays information to your muscles so that you can keep accomplishing all of these tasks.  All in less than a second!

The more of these nerve cells you have active, the better for your sense of Proprioception.

It’s a feedback loop,

proprioception

 

More proprioceptors active = more information going to the brain = more information back into the body = better quality of movement

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Self five for self awareness

Teaching people to become self aware relies on waking up more nerve cells.  By doing this we get better stability and quality to our movement.  Our question now becomes:

How do we wake up more nerve cells to better our quality of movement?

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Let’s check the skin!


Mechanically Stimulating your Proprioceptors

One of the easiest ways to activate more of your nerve cells, light up your brain, and cultivate self awareness to bolster your Chaturanga is to mechanically stimulate them.

Mechanical stimulation is the simple act of perceiving pressure on the body.

Your skin and fascia are rich in nerve cells called Mechanoreceptors.  These nerve cells detect where pressure is being placed on the body.

skinnerves

With a light amount of pressure on the skin, you can really light up the map of how the your body perceives itself.

Back when you were a baby you learned how to move via this mechanical and proprioceptive relationship with the ground.  Your brain learned how to stabilize your body with the ground and against gravity so that you could sit up, roll over, crawl, walk, and now hunch over and read this article.

Back to our original question:

How do we wake up more nerve cells to better our quality of movement?

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Simply apply pressure to the skin via the ground!

Your brain now gets more information from the environment and it’s able to adapt and move your body accordingly.


Stabilize your Chaturanga with the ground:

The Ashtanga school of yoga has a biomechanically excellent way to mechanically stimulate your body in your Chaturangas:

Knees – Chest – Chin Pose

KneeChestChin.jpg

As we lower down from High Plank (Push up position) first we touch our knees to the ground, then our chest, then our chin, while keeping the hips lifted to the sky.

In the process your brain gets an on rush of mechanical information telling it about the ground pressure on the toes, knees, chest, and chin.  Plus, it’s able to detect and activate the muscles lifting up your hips, shoulders, and neck.

yoga-pose-ashtanga-namaskara-eight-limbed-salute

One of the other benefits of this pose is that it encourages spinal proprioception.  Each curve in the spine from the neck to the sacrum is respected and engaged here.  Awareness of the curvature of your spine is a huge factor in stability for the trunk and for your body as a whole.

It transitions very well into a Cobra pose and helps maintain proper spinal alignment when lifting up into Upward Facing Dog.


The Take Home

Knees-Chest-Chin is just one way to practically apply this information.  Now that you’re aware of this concept of mechanically stimulating your body to light up your brain and better your quality of movement you can apply it elsewhere.

For example:

  • A foot massage mechanically awakens the nerve cells of your foot and ankle which will better your standing and balancing postures.  It also helps light up your foot for better quality of movement when you walk or run!

Try this transition out in your yoga practice too!  It will save you a lot in cueing because you’re now empowering your body to find your  own proper alignment.

Your shoulders, wrists, and neck will definitely thank you for it because they will not have to overwork when your core muscles are stabilizing yourself properly.

Proprioceptive self awareness and mechanical pressure stimulation leads to safety and self alignment!

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For hacking your brain with some Neuroscience

Get out there, light up your brain, and go explore with the ground 😉

-Dr. YG

For more Neuroscience:

  1. What is Stretching?
  2. Touchin’ Science: Social Psychology & Biochemistry
  3. Fascia
  4. Hydrate Your Brain & Body

 

Sources:

  1. Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization
  2. Mechanoreceptors Specialized for Proprioception
  3. Somatosensory Systems

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