Things to remember in downward facing dog
Even people who have never done yoga before (or have had minimal exposure to it), for some reason seem to know about downward dog. It’s a great pose. If you’re feeling tight in your legs, have a bit of a sore back or want to release your neck and shoulders, it works wonders. It’s a perfect pose to release tension if you’re sitting in an office in front of a computer all day – although it may be a little bit awkward if you performed this one in the middle of the office!
In Sanskrit the name of this pose is adho mukha svanasana. Let’s go back to our Sanskrit lesson and break it down — adho (downward), mukha (face), svana (dog), asana (posture – but you already knew that!)
Chances are if you have a dog you’ve seen them perform a similar pose when they walk their front legs forward and stretch out their back. Yoga poses were of course derived centuries ago from the sages who took many of the poses from the natural environment around them – think the mountain pose, cobra, crow, tree and of course dogs.
In this pose, the body forms an inverted letter V. It’s a beautiful pose allowing the back to lengthen and relax. But there are a number of things you have to be aware of in this position. Things which I am guilty of often forgetting!
Firstly, make sure you have sufficient space between the legs. They should roughly be hip distance apart. The hands should also be shoulder distance apart. Spread your fingers apart and plant the palms on the floor.
The heels should ideally be touching the ground. If they can’t, still maintain that action as if you are bringing them to the floor. This way you still get the stretch in the calves.
Keep the back flat. If it’s rounding, walk in your hands or feet and make the adjustments to ensure it’s as straight as possible.
Try to keep the shoulders and neck relaxed. It’s very easy for your shoulders to completely collapse in this pose. Try to rotate the shoulder out and relax them. Try moving your head side to side to make sure your neck is loose and not compressed in the pose. The chin can also be brought close to the neck. This activates the chin lock and will also help you stretch the back of the neck. Inch your pelvis further up and feel the sides of your body lengthening.
If you want to spice this posture up, turn it into a sequence! First you can try bending the right knee, while keeping the left still in downward dog. Then alternate, bending the left and keeping the right straight. Repeat this stepping action as a way to further stretch the calves.
Then raise and extend one leg up at a time. Ensure the leg is straight. Then bend the knee and bring the foot coming toward the opposite buttock. This is great for opening up the hips. Repeat on the opposite side.
Return to downward dog and hold for a few moments. If you want a rest, bring your knees and buttocks to the mat. Extend your arms forward on the floor and go into worship/extended child’s pose. Alternatively, you can try walking (or jumping) your feet toward your hands and going into a forward bend.