Adho Mukha Svanasana
(a.k.a., Downward Facing Dog)
Downward Facing Dog is one of those iconic yoga poses that appears many times during a typical class. The pose has many benefits:
~ calms the mind
~ reduces stress
~ energizes the body
~ lengthens the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches, and hands
~ strengthens the arms and legs
~ improves digestion
~ helps with headaches, insomnia, back pain, and fatigue
Those lucky enough to have loose hamstrings and shoulders can potentially click right into this pose with basic set up cues. If, however, you happen to be tight (especially in the hamstrings and/or shoulders), this pose can be tricky! First, let’s go through the basic set up….
~ Begin in the all fours position or child’s pose
~ Spread fingers wide and anchor the knuckles of the thumbs and index fingers to the mat
~ Curl the toes under and press up onto the feet, lengthening the knees as much as possible given hip and hamstring flexibility
~ The arms should be reaching forward and the heels should be aiming toward the floor (it is okay if they never touch, truly!)
~ In this inverted V position, take the ears between the biceps, lift the sitting bones (at the base of the hips) toward the top of the back wall, anchor the shoulder blades to the back and widen the distance between them, and externally rotate the arms in the shoulder joints
~ ** IMPORTANT (especially if you have tight muscles!!) ~ The goal is not to place the hands and feet as far away from each other as possible, but to lengthen as many muscles as possible. It is okay to bring the feet in so that you can lift the hips and lengthen the back!
If you still find yourself fighting your body in down dog, here are some amazing options!!
This is a fantastic chest opener and a great way to offer relief to tight hamstrings and cranky wrists!
Downward Facing Dog with Yoga Blocks Three Ways
1) Resting the top of the forehead on a block can release shoulder and wrist tension, allowing us to focus on upper body alignment. Play with the height of the block!
3) Lifting the heels releases tension in the hamstrings, hips, and low back. With the heels lifted, we can lengthen the low back and lift the hips a bit more easily. (You can also use a rolled up yoga mat or a bolster underneath the heels.)
Downward Facing Dog with Bent Knees Two Ways
1) Bending the knees releases the hamstrings and helps us elongate the back and lift the sitting bones.
2) The second option is just like #3 above, but with bent knees. It’s great, as well, for finding greater length in the spine and releasing the hamstrings.
While we’re often impressed by those with flexibility and perfect alignment, I (as an instructor) believe it takes true bravery and nerve to meet your body where it is in the present moment! Changing it up, trying different variations, and finding what works for your body is the first step toward moving forward. So, for example, if your hamstrings are tight, bring those feet in and bend those knees! This way you can focus on strengthening and lengthening the muscles in the shoulders, spine, and hips safely and effectively. Once this is accomplished, then you can begin to address those hamstrings! Bottom line, taking it step-by-step is going to get you further in the long run! There’s a down dog out there for each of us!
As always, if you have questions or need help with your down dog, just ask!