Stuck in Downward Dog

Stuck in Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

I have always loved sun salutations.  I find serenity in the continuous motion between the movements.  Each piece seems to naturally blend together.  Before there were “flow” classes, there were the sun salutations.   However, I have a confession to make.   I’ve always struggled with downward dog.

As a self-professed yogi, I should love downward dog.  I know all of its benefits from energizing the body to relieving headaches.  But here’s the thing, I not only disliked it, there were some days I actually despised it.  Not a good thing for a yoga enthusiast to admit.  My friends raved about this position.  Some of them would even periodically throw it into their day (outside of yoga).  I just didn’t get it.  Why would you want to do this posture? I had to be missing something.  And I was.

Here’s the thing, you may have remembered from previous posts that my eye/hand co-ordination was not the greatest.   Well this is the case in most of my postures.  And downward dog looked deceptively simple, but I was actually doing the posture wrong.   And it wasn’t until I was shown how downward dog was supposed to feel that I began to understand why people loved this posture.

So I thought I would take today to talk about down ward dog and it’s details.

My favorite explanation of postures is usually found in the Yoga journal, and their description of Downward Dog is no different.  .  The reason why I like the description so much, is that they break down each step of the posture, simply, so that you can easily adjust.  However, I have also included my own interpretation of this movement.

Get into Downward Dog:

Breathe in each step of this posture.  Practice Deep, Pranayama breathing and take your time through each of the steps.  Become aware of your body and its own alignment.

1)   Align your body. The best way to do this is to begin in a crawling position (hands and knees).   Your knees should be below your hips and your arms in front of shoulders.

2)   Take a good look at your hands.   Widen your fingers and make sure that each of your fingers and palm touch the ground.   Feel the pressure of the ground beneath your hand.

3)   What are your toes doing?  Downward dog is partially about becoming  aware of all parts of your body.  Take the time to touch the tips of your toes (slightly curled) to the ground and slowly lengthen your legs (at first leave your heels off the ground and keep your knees bent).   Look back at your feet.  Keep them hip width apart .

4)   Become aware of your back.  Picture a large rope wrapped around your waist and feel your hips and tailbone slightly lifting up.  Bring your sit bones up into the air (it’s a very powerful rope) and gently rotate your thighs inward to help your body maintain this posture.

Tip:  If you have a partner in the room, take turns taking a band and wrapping around each other waists.  Using a band helps bring your body up into the correct downward dog stance.

5)   To ease with bringing your thighs inwards, put a brick in between your legs.  Practice the feeling of holding the brick between your legs.  This will help give strength to the root of your body.  Remember to breathe.

6)   With an exhalation, push your top thighs back and bring your heels closer to the ground.  If they can’t touch, use bricks to assist and place your heels on the bricks.

7)   What are your arms doing?  Lengthen your arms.  If you have a tendency to overextend (like I do), be aware of this.   Recognize the strength that is in your arms.  Firm your arms and hands to the ground and lift your shoulders up and back.

8)   What is your head doing? If it’s hanging like a rag doll,  bring your head between your two arms.  Keep it active.  Downward dog is a very active posture, you are using your entire body.  Become aware of this activity.

9)   Absorb the feeling of this posture and how downward dog is meant to feel.   Stay in the posture as long as feels right. To reach the full benefits of the posture, try to stay in it for 1 to 3 minutes.  Enjoy.

Take your time in downward dog and recognize the needs of your own body. This posture is a natural position.  However, often times our minds get in the way of what our body can naturally do.   If you’re still struggling, just practice connecting with the earth.  Feel the strength in your arms and feet.  Experience this feeling of being rooted, in time, the posture will come.  Trust me.


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