Let’s have a look at…. Downward Dog

Downward-Facing Dog/Adho Mukha Svanasana

A very well-known and common pose in many yoga practices – you may have even done this one yourself! Many are not aware, but this is actually a resting pose, but I know it doesn’t feel like it some days! This is also a main pose used in Sun Salutations (Suryanamskar), which is a common sequence used in Ashtanga, Power, or Hatha yoga styles.

I remember when I first began yoga that I had some trouble with this pose… I wasn’t sure if I was getting it right, how high should my hips go, how much can I bend my knees, etc.  Too many questions were running through my head when I should have just been letting the pose come naturally. This can also be a difficult pose for some beginners, so my hope is that this description can be helpful for you as you practice downward dog.

Benefits:

* Stretches the whole back of the body from the heels, up through the spine, and out the arms and fingertips
* Strengthens the feet, legs, back, shoulders, and arms
* Increases circulation
* Reduces fatigue and rejuvenates the body
* Helps to calm the mind and relieve mild depression
* Improves digestion
* Strengthens the immune system
* Relieves insomnia, menstrual and menopausal discomfort

Contraindications:

* Wrist injuries or sensitivities
* Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
* High or low blood pressure
* Pregnancy – late term not recommended
* Headache
* Migraine – not recommended, do not want to cause extra pressure in the head

How to pose:

Start by centering yourself in the middle of your mat on your hands and knees – hands directly under your shoulders with fingers spread and knees aligned under hips about hip-width apart.  Make sure your spine is straight and relaxed; no tense muscles here.
Inhale and on the exhale raise your hips up toward the sky with your knees slightly bent – heels do not have to be touching the floor if this causes pain.  Essentially, your body should be in a V-shape. Your arms should be straight with your elbows engaged and your shoulder blades down your back and away from your ears – feel relaxed!  Your legs are as straight as you can make them without hurting and straining – bend the knees slightly if your hamstrings are very tight.  Hands and feet should still be hip-distance apart.
Push those sit-bones up into the air to keep the spine straight and aligned properly.
Make sure you are pressing into the fingers and palms (without gripping the mat), pushing up the hips and letting the head drop naturally.  It should look like the heart is moving toward the wall behind you or the back of the mat.
Hold this pose for as long as you feel comfortable, but ideally five yogic breaths (in and out of the nose only) and concentrate on the breath to relax into the pose.

To release, on the exhale lower the body back down to hand and knees and rest in child’s pose.

Modifications:

* Wrist issues – slatboard or folded blanket/mat to elevate the wrists to take the pressure off
* Blood pressure issues – do not hold the pose as long and come out of the pose slowly; you can also support the head on a block/bolster with the ears level between the arms (the same can be done for headache)

In Iyengar Yoga, and some Yoga Therapy sessions, this pose can also be performed using wall ropes for an excellent opening and stretch (please perform this pose with the guidance of an experienced teacher)

Preparatory poses:

A good pose for preparing for downward dog would be Plank pose to help strengthen the arms and abdomen

References:

Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health by B.K.S. Iyengar

http://www.vancouveryoga.com/asana_downdog.html

Hatha Yoga Illustrated by Martin Kirk, Brook Boon & Daniel DiTuro

Image: http://arthritisfoundationwpa.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/downward-dog.jpg

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