Yoga

Downward-facing dog : my home base

July 29, 2015
Downward-Facing Dog: My Home Base

Downward-Facing Dog. Mmmm. Just hearing that word relaxes me immediately. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog pose) is certainly a must when you start practicing yoga. Downward-Facing Dog feels like home to me, it has become a very calming pose to me, even though practicing it requires strength and flexibility.

How to get into the pose

1. Start on your hands and knees, table top position. Place your hands shoulder width apart, and feet in line with your hips.

2. Open up your fingers, and press firmly into your hands, focusing on the base of your fingers.

3. Tuck your toes under your feet, and on your next exhale, push into your hands to raise your hips and bum up into the sky, forming an inversed V shape, arms and legs straight.

4. To make sure you have the right distance, inhale, and bring your shoulders over your hands. Align hands, wrists and shoulders on top of each other in a plank position. Make sure your heels are also aligned with the base of our toes, feet at a 90-degree angle with the floor. Readjust if needed.

5. On your next exhalation, bring your hips and bum back up to the sky. Realign your hands with your shoulders, and feet hip-width apart.

What to focus your attention on once in the pose

Hands and arms

  1. First, breathe deeply.
  2. Widen your fingers and press firmly your hands in the mat, focusing on the index finger and thumb.
  3. From that solid foundation, extend more into the arms, making them strong, and pushing the shoulders back, trying to bring the base of the shoulder blades closer, creating more space for the head to move freely.
  4. Release the tension in your neck, move your head from side to side. Then place your head in between your arms, ears next to the inner arms, aligned with your spine.
  5. From your hands and arms, firming the exterior of the arms and pushing even more into the index finger and thumb, extend even more through the spine, pushing the sitting bones up and back in a diagonal.

Legs and feet

  1. Now we get to the other side of the inversed V. From the back of the pelvis, push down into your heels.
  2. Do not move the feet closer if your heels don’t touch the floor. It’s more important to get the stretch in the hamstrings and to learn that action with the proper distance than to get your heels on the floor. Remember that yoga is all about the journey, not the destination.
  3. While keeping your legs very engaged as you are trying to bring your heels to the floor, on your next exhalation, move the top of your thighs back. The objective of that action is to create more space in your groins.
  4. Now your legs are firmly engaged and you are pressing the top of your thighs back. If you want to go more into details, start thinking about the rotation of your legs. In Down Dog, there is a subtile internal rotation. To create that, imagine that from the back of your pelvis, you are wrapping to bring your hip bones closer to each other. And then extend that wrapping action to the inner legs, all the way to the big toe mount.
  5. At this point, your legs are on fire. The whole leg, from the back of the pelvis to the toe mounts, is active. Can you feel it?

Beginner’s variation

If your shoulders feel really tight, or your hamstrings are screaming to you to stop,  you can elevate your hands with props, such as blocks, or place them on the seat of a chair. You can also try the Wall Push, which I really enjoy, placing your hands in the wall and moving your hips back until you form a 90-degree angle. Then follow all the instructions in What To Focus Your Attention On While In The Pose just as if you were performing Downward-Facing Dog.

How to get out of the pose

  1. Once you are ready to come down, on your next exhale, bring your knees down to the floor, and take Child’s pose, untucking your toes and bringing your buttocks to your heels.
  2. You can keep your arms extended or bring your hands back to the exterior of your feet, palms up.
  3. Breathe here, you deserve it after all that hard work!

The benefits

Lots of benefits are associated with DownDog. Practicing the pose:

  • Stretches the hands, arms, shoulders, core, hamstrings, calves, ankles (pretty much everything!)
  • Makes you stronger
  • Calms the nervous system
  • Helps relieve stress
  • Energizes the body (yes, you can at the same time calm the nervous system AND energize the body, that’s the magic of inversions)
  • Improves digestion
  • Relieves headache, insomnia, back pain and fatigue

The contraindications

Do not perform that pose by yourself if you suffer from :

  • Carpel Tunnel Syndrome or anything related to detached eye retina, weak eye capillaries and other funny things in your eyes
  • High blood pressure or headache. If that case, you can try supporting your head on a bolster or block, placing the top of your forehead on the prop, releasing the neck.
  • Shoulder injury or anything related to shoulder not being okay to do yoga.

Be careful also if you are pregnant as it might not be appropriate in late-term.

Have a wonderful time in Adho Mukha Svanasana! Please contact me if you have any question or would like more détails.

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