Pose of the Week: Downward Facing Dog

Adho = Down

Mukha = Face

Svan = Dog

asana = Pose

Ah, this week I’ve decided to tackle another foundational pose, one that is part of pretty much every traditional hatha flow, Downward Facing Dog. This pose is part of a vinyasa flow, helping you to transition from one set of poses to another, helping you to “reset.” This pose serves as a restorative pose, one that helps you to reconnect with your breath and calm your heart rate down. This pose also helps you to work on strength and flexibility. It’s all around a great and essential pose!

When I started yoga, I didn’t like this pose. I’m sure I didn’t like it because I didn’t understand it. It felt awkward, clumsy, and, frankly, it was painful. And my early form of it was all of those things. If I had a picture of my form, it probably would look something like a monster crawl. Ah, who am I kidding….it definitely looked like a monster crawl. My shoulders were up high, kind of like a pushup, my weight was shifted forwarad, my back was almost parallel to the floor, and my hips were up just a little higher than my shoulders. And no one corrected me!I went to my instructor after class one time and told her that my wrists and shoulders were hurting in this pose. Here was the kicker: she told me that your shoulders and wrists should not feel pain or pressure in downward dog. Say what? That seemed impossible to me. So she had me get into the pose (my clunky version of it) and then she placed her hands at my hip bones and gently pulled my hips up and back. Whoa! Epiphany! I had the weight in the wrong place! My version was akin to a preparation to go into plank. Her version had me in that classic upside-down letter V.

What is the way to do a proper downward dog then? How do you know when it’s “right.” How does it start to feel natural?

Let’s start with what it should feel like. In Downward Dog you should feel a satisfying stretch along the front body and across the shoulders. You should feel secure and strong, beautifully grounded. You should feel like your heart has lots of space. You shouldn’t feel tension anywhere. You shouldn’t feel pain anywhere. You should not dread going into this pose. You should feel like this pose is natural, like you’re “coming home.” Sheesh….that’s a lot of feelings!

Here is what I tell my students the goal of this pose is: hips high up in the air and moving back. It’s all in the hips, baby! Everything follows the hips.

Here are the steps I give to people:

1) Start with deeply bent legs. No, seriously. If you were told straight legs are a requirement in this pose, you were misled. So, bend the legs.

2) Then, with hands that are shoulder or slightly wider than shoulder width apart, push the floor away with your hands.

3) Draw your hips up and back…just keep telling yourself, “hips up and back, hips up and back, hips up and back.” Imagine that someone takes their fingers and places them just inside the crease of your hips and gently pulls you, you got it, UP and BACK.

4) Draw your shoulders back and down and away from your ears.

5) With all of this beautiful extension, allow your heart center to start to descend toward the floor or draw it back toward your legs.6) When you’ve achieved this gorgeousness, THEN, work on straightening the legs. Pedal them out, one at a time.

7) Finally, when you have straight legs, perhaps work on getting those heels to the floor. Some people really never get their heels to the floor. That’s okay. They can stay lifted, because this pose is ALL ABOUT THE HIPS! A tip about the heels…if lowering your heels to the floor means your lower back starts to flatten or round, then lift the heels, bend the knees, lift the hips back up into the air. Keep on moving the body BACKWARD in space, taking pressure out of the hands, wrists, and shoulders.

9) Now BREATHE. Nice full, long, yogic breathes with sound.

There are so many benefits of this pose: From cnyhealingarts.com:· Inverted poses are extremely important because they reverse the action of gravity on the body and get the blood and lymph flowing in opposite directions.· On an emotional level downward facing dog helps turn everything on its head and helps us see things from a different angle.· It helps boost self-confidence.· Because of the increased blood flow to the top of the body, shoulder stand can help improve brain function and cognition and reduce anxiety and depression.· Takes pressure off the heart, which has to work less to get blood flowing to the brain.· Strengthens and tones the arms and legs· Because of the weight bearing nature of the posture on the arms and legs it helps strengthen the bones and prevent osteoporosis.· Lengthens and straightens the spine, helping to relieve pain in the upper, middle and lower back.· The body gets a 360-degree stretch in just one pose.

I found this in an article from 2012 in Huffington Post: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/acupuncture-points_b_1531601Downward Facing Dog activates the Bladder Channel, the longest channel in the body that has 67 acupuncture points. This channel is important for immune function, lengthening it and strengthening it allows free flow of energy, strengthening the body’s immune function.

A good preparation pose for Downward Dog is Puppy Dog Pose. If you have not done this pose, you are missing out! It allows you to concentrate on getting that delicious front body stretch without concerning yourself with what your hamstrings and heels are doing. Years later now, these two are favorite poses of mine. May you find your center in them as well. Namaste