How to Really Down Dog: Alignment and Variations
I’m not the kind of yoga teacher to force your body into strictly prescribed angles and positions. But I do find certain alignment cues useful as a point of reference towards which or from which we then adjust the pose to our body.
Correct alignment, whatever that means in your body, can do magic. It makes you stable in a pose while energy efficient. Correct alignment also helps prevent injury.
Injury in yoga is a huge topic, perhaps for another blogpost or a serie. There’s just ONE thing I want to make clear.
You will NOT get hurt just because you don’t follow certain precise alignment.
Your body is a powerful wonder machine. It is meant to move and bend and climb and hold you. It is meant to do things.
What may wear you out is so called repetitive stress. It’s when we repeat certain poses over and over in our practice that we may face consequences. Smart alignment, although not the only preventative measure, can help you go long way.
Patanjali’s sutras say that your place of practice should be:
a place we can use for a long time
a place that is continually available to us for practice
a place cared for with reverence.
This place of practice is your body.
Adho Mukha Shvanasana, Downward Facing Dog, is an asana that appears multiple times in most dynamic yoga classes. The chances are you take at least five down dogs each time you practice any vinyasa style of yoga. Yet, it is the least explained yoga pose of all.
Many of my students said to me that no one has ever explained Down Dog to them before they arrived to my class. Most teachers somehow expect you to know!
When I started practicing yoga, I remember the frustration of trying to understand what to do with my arms and shoulders. I am hypermobile and hanging in my shoulders in down dog was painful. I learnt about repetitive stress the hard way. No one has ever corrected me.
So here’s the deal.
I will take you through the cues and show you what each micro adjustment looks like, and you will get on the mat and explore what it means in your body. I also add a few variations of down dog for you to play with.
If you need a bit more motivation to why practice down dog, watch the video or scroll down for a list of benefits!
Adho Mukha Shvanasana benefits:
stretches the back body
lengthens the spine
strengthens arms and shoulders
refreshes the brain
calms down the nerves
grounding (oh and try the head supported variation), with inward energy
Start in plank pose to get the right distance between your hands and feet. Your hands are in line with your shoulders, your feet hip distance apart.
Push into your hands and come into Down Dog with knees bent.
Push the floor away with your hands.
Hug the outer edges of your armpits down for external rotation of the upper arms.
(these two cues do the magic to keep your shoulders strong and safe)
Push your sit bones up and back (remember, your knees are still bent at this point)
If you are hanging in your shoulders and arching your back, exhale and hug the ribcage in.
Make sure your heels are heavy towards the ground (they don’t have to touch the floor, just keep them as close as they get)
Keep the position of your pelvis and that of your heels. If you feel that you have space, you can start straightening your knees towards straight. Whether they make it or not doesn’t matter!
Bring chin towards your throat and look towards your thighs to keep the back of your neck long.
It’s a lot to pay attention to. Start from the upper body and work your way down. It’s a great body awareness exercise and will help you build strong base for many other poses, where you use your arms as a base.
Block supported hands to create more space
Head supported Down Dog for grounding
Chair variation to take much load off the arms and wrists
Supine variation to avoid moving upside down and tire your arms
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Thank you for reading all the way and I look forward to sharing more yoga with you next week.