Namaste everyone. For this month I would like to align and refine the Downward Facing Dog Pose with you. This pose can be placed in many categories: it works as a standing pose, a forward extension and an inversion because in it we have our head lower than our heart. This posture is probably the most widely known yoga asana (remember that asana is Sanskrit for pose/posture) in and out of the Yoga community. It is the posture where we can check in with ourselves to become aware of how our body feels in this moment, it strengthens AND stretches our body, as a mild inversion it can calm our nervous system and help relieve stress, and as your practice improves, it can function as your resting pose.
Downward Facing Dog Pose strengthens the body as we need to stabilize our joints with muscular effort (no hanging out in the pose!! Work those muscles to keep your joints safe!!!) At the same time it stretches our spine, our hips and the backs of our legs. It opens our chest and shoulders while toning the arms and abdominal muscles. If you just had time to practice one pose every day, this pose would be it!
If you are interested in working on your alignment and like to pay detailed attention to your postural habits in the yoga pose Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward Facing Dog Pose, give the following instructions a try!
Instructions for Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward Facing Dog Pose:
- Come onto an all fours position on your mat with your knees directly under your hips, feet in line with your knees and toes tucked. Your hands are shoulder width apart and slightly forward of your shoulders. Make sure your hands and fingers are spread comfortably with the wrist crease parallel to the front edge of your mat. Strongly press the palms down, keeping the weight even on all knuckles.
- Keep your arms straight throughout the pose, allow the upper arms to roll out so that the elbow creases point towards the opposite hand’s thumb.
- On an exhale reach your outer hips up and back as you lift the knees away from the floor and begin to straighten the legs. Pull the thighs and heels toward the back of your mat.
- Bring your ears next to your upper arms and allow your head to release downward as you stretch the spine up to your hips.
- Stay in the pose for at least half a minute before returning back onto all fours.
Work in the pose:
– There is a tendency to have too much weight on the pinkie side of your hand. Make sure you are pressing strongly into the index finger and thumb mound to have a more even weight distribution on your hands.
– Keep rolling your upper arms out – biceps roll forward to the front of the mat and triceps back and toward your ears – so that the elbow creases will keep pointing to the opposite hand’s thumb. This encourages your upper chest and collar bones to remain broad. Also you will have more space at the base of your neck as this will help draw the shoulders away from the ears.
– Keep the elbows straight by firming them in towards each other. This will help keep the arms strong.
– Let your upper back and shoulder blades reach up towards your hips, away from the base of the neck. (Remember, you are upside down)
– Now comes the tricky part. If you are very flexible in the lower part of your back – the lumbar region – and you always strongly lift your sitting bones up to the ceiling, the danger here is that you are likely to overarch your lower back. You need to refine your pose. A good remedy is to work on your lower front ribs. Don’t allow them to jut forward of your body. Soften them in and move them towards your hips and then reach the outer hips up.
If you have tight hamstrings, then the tendency here is that the lower back rounds. Continue reading Some tips for you on how to adjust yourself for lengthening the spine.
– Without moving your hands, push them forward on your mat and at the same time press your shoulder blades into the back and letting your armpits and chest move towards the front of your thighs.
– Keep moving the front of the thighs and shins back so that you can shift some weight from the hands into the legs and feet.
– Lift your kneecaps.
– Reach your groins and outer hips up and back away from your hands. At the same time descend your heels towards the ground.
As you press forward into your hands, a line of energy moves up from your hands to your outer hips.
As you reach the heels back and down, another line of energy moves up from your feet to your outer hips.
Ideally and simply put, your body should resemble an inverted V in this pose.
– Relax the neck, head and face!
Some tips for you:
– If your shoulders are tight, you can widen your hands away from each other and let your fingers point more to the outside edges of your mat (this will encourage that external rotation of the upper arms) (In this picture I have my hands on blocks at the wall with my hands turned away from each other.)
– If your hamstrings are tight, you can widen your foot stance to the sides and keep your knees bent (Even though my knees are bent, I want to continue lifting the outer hips up and back)
– If your wrists hurt from too much weight in the hands, you can practice the pose with the hands on a chair or on blocks (I placed my blocks against the wall for stability) This variation takes the weight out of the hands and into the feet.
– For a more restorative version of the pose, rest your head on a support or lean over a chair. In the chair variation I have my mat over the backrest for cushioning the root of my thighs. My heels press into the wall and my hands are on blocks as they don’t reach the floor. You will notice that I have my chin slightly lifted- this helps me access my shoulder blades which need to press into the back. (Scroll Down for photos)
- Yoga, The Iyengar Way by Silva, Mira and Shyam Mehta, published by Dorling Kindersley Ltd, London, 1990
- The Woman’s Yoga Book by Bobby Clennell, published by Rodmell Press, California, 2007
Katja Huiras is a certified Yoga teacher who teaches Align+Refine Yoga classes at the Yoga Loft in Bethlehem. She received her 200 hr certification at the Yoga Loft and the 500 hr certification through the Himalayan Institute in Honesdale, PA. In 2009 she was introduced to Iyengar Yoga and was intensely inspired by its method. Since then she regularly studies and practices with certified Iyengar Yoga teachers.
Missed last month’s column? Read it now: