Everything You Need to Know About Downward-Facing Dog
The Right Way to Yoga Down-Dog
One of the most well-known poses and probably the first pose that registers’ in peoples’ minds after the Child’s pose. Even people who never practised yoga before know or have heard about Downward-Facing Dog.
For some reason, for the occasional students, Downward-Facing Dog isn’t considered a fancy pose. Maybe it’s because of our visual lives and our eyes being trained to look at long and aligned flexible bodies doing complicated poses and hand-stands. Maybe because it’s not considered a difficult pose. BUT Downward-Facing Dog is one of the best asanas (poses) to do whether you are an advanced student or completely new to yoga and fitness. In fact, I believe that Downward-Facing Dog is an exercise that needs to be included in most workouts, before or after the actual training. And you should try and incorporate a Down Dog pose in your daily workout routine.
What is the Downward-Facing Dog about?
It’s a torso stretching, arm and leg strengthening and mind awakening exercise. If you’re looking to make your muscles longer or get some energy into your body and mind, then Downward-Facing Dog is a good pose to be in and you’ll be able to see results fast. A great strengthening and stretching exercise for your entire body.
How to do a Down Dog
There are plenty of YouTube videos online with yoga sequences and Down Dog will most probably be there in any yang yoga video, as part of Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) and practised many times throughout any sequence. There are also plenty of photos showing you what a Down Dog looks like. Now, it’s not always accurate and all bodies are different so whatever you see in a video or photo might not be how it should look like for your body. Be critical and adjust the pose to your needs. The most important thing to remember is that you don’t have to keep your legs straight. It’s ok if you can but if you need to compromise your spine’s position in order to have the soles of your feet on the mat with straight legs, don't do it. This isn’t what this pose is about. Bend the knees to lengthen the spine! If you force your heels down you’re rounding your spine and you don’t want that. The key action is to lengthen through the spine and legs. Tight hamstrings, hip flexors, shoulder issues or spinal conditions (kyphosis, scoliosis) make students round their spine while on Down-Dog.
On the other hand, if you are a hyper-flexible person then also pay attention to your alignment. You might be able to easily stretch your legs on the mat but make sure you’re not arching the spine. Rounding or excessive arching is not what we want here.
Another good tip I was given more than 10 years ago when I was a few years into yoga practice was to tighten my thighs so that it becomes easier to shift the weight off my arms and get the sense of elongating the spine.
Why work on your Down Dog
For mental and physical balance. And I could stop this here but let me say something more about it because I think many of you will find it interesting. From my own personal experience and from what my students tell me after only a couple of practices is that you first notice an emotional balance. It starts slowly and if you pay close attention you start feeling in control. I believe that physical balance comes first but because we’re not used to easily understand what our bodies are telling us we focus on the way we feel emotionally. Whatever works for each one of us.
In any case, Down Dog is your gate to steadiness, it’s the opportunity to self-discovery. Your body is the vehicle and the message transmitter. Namaste!