One of the most foundational poses to any yoga practice is Downward Facing Dog, or Adho Mukha Svanasana. This posture not only relieves lower back pain and sciatic nerve discomfort, but also helps to minimize depression and tightness in the hamstrings. It stretches the body from the fingertips to the heels, opening all the muscles of the spine, neck, shoulders, chest, lats, buttocks, thighs, hamstrings, calves and Achilles tendons. If putting pressure on the wrists does not feel right for you then you can also modify this pose and practice extended puppy with bolsters under the belly. When you practice Downward Facing Dog, here’s a few tips to keep in mind:
- The Importance of the Arms and Hands:
The hands should be in alignment with the shoulders, or just slightly wider. Make sure the fingertips are active on the mat, so that all your body weight does not stagnate in the wrists. The arms should feel strong from the fingertips in to the biceps and triceps with the shoulders rolled into the socket, leaving space in the mid and upper back, between the shoulder blades. All your weight will feel like it is on your arms when you first start this asana, but over time, you will learn to lift with your core, and allow your sacrum to open, the lowest part of your spine, so that the heaviness you feel in your arms floats up the spine and down the backs of the legs like water.
- The Placement of the Head:
Don’t hold your head rigidly in place. Some traditions, like Ashtanga, even have you slightly tuck your chin into your chest and gaze at the navel. This is to counteract the tendency for people to look forward, and strain the neck muscles. Instead of holding your head in place, let the natural heaviness of your head act as a weight to release tension in your spine. You can let it hang completely, or, as in Ashtanga, look back toward your navel, and even engage Mula and Uddiayana Bandhas, psycho-energetic locks in the perineal muscles, navel and solar plexus. Simply draw the muscles in, as if you were trying to stop urine flow, and then draw the abdominal muscles in toward the spine. This will also draw subtle energy in the nadis towards the crown chakra and relieve further tension in the lower back.
- Stretch the Spine From Top to Bottom and Side to Side:
Your spine should feel as though it is lengthening and growing longer, but also becoming flatter. Remove any arch in the spine except its natural S-curve. Don’t send the sitting bones straight up, but up and back so that the spine can stretch both up and down and from side to side. Feel the ribs expand as you breath deeply and keep sending your sitting bones away from your hands.
- Easy Does It:
Not everyone’s heels will touch the ground in Adho Mukha Svanasana in the beginning, or even for a while after practicing the posture. You can even purposefully bend your knees and bicycle the feet gently up and down to allow a deepening of the stretch in the backs of the legs and down into your ankles and feet. The feet should also be in alignment with the hips or slightly wider for a traditional Downward Facing Dog, but you will see variations. Gently roll the quadriceps forward and up, so that they are gently engaged, and only push your heels toward the ground if you can do so while keeping your spine long and straight and your hips high. This should be a gradual process that you accomplish over time.
Eventually your Downward Facing Dog should look like an inverted ‘V,’ or triangle, with the floor acting as the third side of the shape you are making with your body. Be sure not to hold your breath while in the pose and hold long enough for the muscles to release fully, at least five full breaths or longer.
Are there any sensations you have noticed in this posture when practicing it? Feel free to share your comments.
Editor’s note: This is a guest post from the authors of YOME. YOME aggregates and features a FREE collection of hundreds of yoga videos including meditation techniques that were posted by the best yoga teaches in the world. YOME enables you to combine a yoga practice within your personal routine. You can practice yoga poses wherever and whenever you want, without trying to make it to a specific class on time or rush through traffic. Connect with YOME on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Google+.
Photo credits: lululemon athletica on flickr…