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Downward facing dog is one of my favorite positions to visit during class because it works well in a flowing series, as a transitional posture and on its own. As an active posture it offers many physical benefits for the body by flexing the hips, lengthening the spine, strengthening the arms and stretching the legs. As a passive posture it allows the body time to rest.
Among my yoga students, I have found that Down Dog can be one of the “misunderstood postures” which can lead to discomfort in the body during the position and in extreme cases, even a distaste for the posture all together. Going with the notion that knowledge is power, through this post and video I hope to empower you by increasing your confidence in the posture and helping you bring the body into alignment, all the while increasing your strength and flexibility.
For my students who find the posture uncomfortable or even painful, it is often the result of either,
- An uneven weight distribution
And in some cases it may be a bit of both. Individuals with tight hamstrings tend to to hold more weight on the hands than the feet, since the heels may not touch the mat. If the majority of the weight is on your hands this can quickly tire the upper body and may bring discomfort into your arms, upper back, shoulders and/or neck because of the tendency round and crowd the ears. To alleviate discomfort attempt to lengthening the spine; create space in the lower back, chest drawing down and possibly adding a bend to the knees. Other modifications include using your mat, a towel, blanket, block or wedge or even the wall to rest your heels on, so you can push back into the heels comfortably. I encourage you to try some of these out as it gives allows the lower body to hold more of your weight, taking some of the load off your arms. As you become more flexible, you may find that you need to adjust or try out another of these modifications.
Another alignment issue that I have witnessed in my classes is coming into a a position that is somewhere in between a plank pose and downward dog, where the arms form a 90 degree angle with the mat and the wrist are aligned directly are under the shoulders. Ideally, the arms should form an angle with the mat that is closer to 45 degrees, which will help to reduce the pressure or discomfort in the wrist. Individuals with arthritis, other hand or wrist ailments and those who experience painful compression the joints may experience discomfort in the full and unmodified variation of this posture. In these cases I recommend bringing the elbows to the mat (into Dolphin Pose variation) or to modify the position of the wrist. This can be done by gripping a small foam hand weight or push up handle which can relieve some discomforts in the wrist.
Now let get out our mats and give Downward facing dog a try. As you do so, remember to pay special attention to your alignment and weight distribution. Holding the pose, check in with the body:
- Is your weight even?
- Is there any discomfort anywhere?
- Are you able to breathe fluidly?
I advise viewing the following video twice, observing for the first go around and then participating during the second. As always, listen to your body, rest if you need to and maintain your breath as you hold the position. Enjoy!
Downward Facing Dog
Downward Facing Dog is one of the most well known yoga postures. Ashley explains the pose and the proper form for practicing it.
Thank you for letting me be apart of your practice and have a wonderful day!
Ashley Freeman is a registered yoga teacher with the Yoga Alliance. Certified in Raja Yoga, her experience includes private in-home lessons, workplace wellness programs, and group instruction teaching various class formats and yoga styles. Find her on Google+