Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Pose of the Month: Downward-Facing Dog December 5, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:30 pm
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Pose Name: Downward-Facing Dog

Sanskrit Name: Adho Mukha Svanasana

Steps:

Downward dog is usually done as part of a sun salutation sequence – the instructions here tell how to get into the pose on its own.

  1. Begin on hands and knees, with a neutral spine and knees directly below the hips.
  2. Curl the toes under. Exhaling, pressing into the hands and balls of the feet, lift the knees off the floor and press the hips into the air.
  3. Lengthen your tailbone away from the back of your pelvis, and lift the sitting bones toward the ceiling. Lengthen the spine; lengthen the waist.
  4. Check in with your body. The back and legs should be straight, as if you’re forming a big triangle with your body: straight lines from hip to heel and from head to tailbone. Knees are straight, but don’t lock them; let them be soft.
  5. The feet should be hip-width apart, with the weight on the balls of the feet. Press your heels down towards the floor, stretching the backs of the calves.
  6. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart, with fingers spread wide. Press your weight down through your whole hand, not just your palm, so the whole hand is active. However, rather than pressing the whole hand completely flat, give yourself a little bend through your finger knuckles – this will give you a little more leverage. Make sure your weight is balanced between hands and feet so your feet aren’t taking the whole load.
  7. Extend strongly through the arms so that your elbows are straight. Stretch and press through your inner arms, gently revolving your elbow creases forward. You don’t want a deep bend at the wrist, so take a look and see if you have a crease on the top of the wrist, and if you do, press back more strongly.
  8. Stretch and open the shoulder blades, drawing them toward the tailbone.
  9. Hold here for five long, deep, even breaths, or longer if you feel comfortable.
  10. To come out, drop your knees to the floor to return to a neutral tabletop pose. Or you can walk your feet up to your hands to come into a standing forward fold.

Benefits:

Downward dog is an important core posture in yoga. It stretches and strengthens the entire body. Down dog warms and energizes the body, calms the brain, and relieves stress.

Contraindications:

Those with carpal tunnel syndrome or other wrist problems may have difficulty and pain in downward dog and should consider dolphin pose instead. Downward dog should not be practiced in the late stages of pregnancy.

My Experience with Downward Dog:

I’ve practiced yoga for almost nine years, so I do downward dog all the time. Recently one of my students asked for some guidance on down dog, and it was difficult for me to respond helpfully because this pose is so automatic for me now. As we talked together about the pose, I realized I didn’t have all the answers to her questions (tilt of the pelvis? orientation of the elbows?), so I wanted to look into the pose more closely to better understand the alignment and what’s going on. As my student pointed out, we do downward dog all the time, but we rarely look at exactly what we’re doing in this pose, and yoga teachers don’t usually give detailed instructions on doing the pose, assuming that any non-beginners understand it already. It was good to look more closely at this pose so that I can guide students with different body types into practicing the pose correctly.

Yoga Journal has some nice videos about performing downward-facing dog, which you can view here and here.

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13 Responses to “Pose of the Month: Downward-Facing Dog”

  1. birdmaddgirl Says:

    i am constantly questioning my elbows in this pose. and no matter how many times i look up advice, i never can seem to keep it in my brain! My sense is that pelvis might have a bit of an anterior tilt, but is close to neutral – although i could be totally off base… i also have a hard time with my shoulders in this pose; down the back i get, but i have a hard time wrapping my head around what external rotation feels like in this particular pose.

    interesting that the YJ write up talks about shifting weight forward. my own experience of practice (and what i’m seeing in my students) is the tendency to put too much weight in the shoulders and hands and to let the legs just hang out.

    • R. H. Ward Says:

      I get mixed up about elbows too. I have a slightly better sense of it now, but different people are SO different in this pose. F, for example, has really weird elbows and he looks totally different in down dog than I do, but his alignment is right for his weird elbows.

      I tend to get a little too much cow tilt in my pelvis, which I think is visible in the photos, but I’m not sure how I’d have to adjust to make it more neutral – or whether it’d be necessary or helpful to do so.

      I’ve been practicing shifting weight backward for so long that I just do it naturally now, but I think you’re right that that’s the natural tendency.

  2. […] this issue, I really enjoyed the basics article focusing on downward-facing dog. This core pose is such an integral part of almost all yoga traditions, but it seems like […]

  3. […] downward dog (bicycle the legs here to stretch out the calves) […]

  4. […] Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana): Be gentle with yourself here, but don’t slack off. Down dog and plank are a lot harder these days with carrying all this extra weight, but you don’t want that to be an excuse for losing all your upper body strength while you’re pregnant. See if you can hold the pose for five breaths. It might help to bicycle out the feet here, dropping first one heel, then the other, towards the floor. This stretches out the calves, which is great if you get leg cramps in the night like I do. […]

  5. […] downward dog (bicycle out the legs here to stretch the calves) […]


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