Pose Breakdown: Downward Facing Dog

English: Downward Facing Dog
Sanskrit: Adho Mukha Svanasana

Does taking 3 breaths in downward facing dog feel like an eternity? Don’t worry, I feel you. It used to for me too, I used to cringe when the instructor would say, “let’s meet in down dog” and then we would wait for everyone to meet there. Today we are going to breakdown this common posture and help you comfortable relax into one down dog.

Here’s how to do it:

Starting from a forward fold, place your hands shoulder-width apart on the mat. Really plug your hands into the mat. You can bend your knees as much as you need to in order to get there. Next, step your feet back on at a time, keeping them somewhere around hip-width apart, maybe a little closer. You are stepping back as if you are going into plank, but not quite that far away from your hands. Keep your feet close enough to your hands to be able to push your hips up in the air, elongating your spine. I like to think of yoga in terms of making shapes, and you are making the shape of a piece of pizza with down dog, where the crust side is your hands and feet.

Most often, I see these struggles and frustrations with down dog:

  • Thinking your legs have to be straight. They sure don’t have to be. It’s much more important to push your hips up and have a straight elongated spine, this means anything from a gentle to generous bend in your knees is a-okay.

  • Worrying about getting those heels flat.  Your heels don’t have to be flat. This is something to aspire to but take a lot of time (and hamstring flexibility to get to). Let those heels come up off the ground, walk the dog (alternate bending and flexing the knee and ankle) to gradually build your strength and flexibility. If you need some extra support, out a rolled up blanket under your heels.

  • Stiffening or scrunching up your neck. Be sure and let your neck be loose and fluid. Moving your shoulders away from your ears and flattening out your armpits by pushing up your hips really helps with this. Keep your head in between your upper arms and gaze towards your belly button.

  • Painful wrists. Usually this is caused by gripping with the fingertips instead of suction cupping the palms and really plugging them into the floor or pouring weight too far forward into the wrists. If your wrists hurt, play with the angle, push the hips up further, bend the knees to flatten the back. You can use blocks under your hands to change the angle and take some weight out of the wrists. Alternatively, put your forearms on the ground and avoid the wrist action all together.

Practice these tips and in no time you will be comfortable “hanging out in down dog” for as many breaths as you need to. If you need some hands on help with making down dog feel right for you, join us for the free Beginner Yoga Basics Workshop on Sunday, October 7th.