17th February 2020
We start this series with what is arguably the best known yoga pose – the downward facing dog.
It is a mild inversion (where your head is below your heart) and is an essential component of the sun salutation sequence. It is used as a transitioning pose, a resting pose and also a strength builder. It helps increase blood flow to the head and provides energy while calming your mind.
The Sanskrit is adho mukha svanasana – adho (downward) + mukha (face) + śvāna (dog) + āsana (pose)
To get into downward facing dog – adho mukha svanasana
From table top or a squat with hands in front float the hips to the sky without coming forward with the head. Walk the hands further forwards if needed. Draw the naval in and exhale as you rise into the posture.
Spread the fingers wide with the creases in the back of the wrist parallel with the short edge of the mat. Normally the first finger will point towards the top edge of the mat. Press into the hands particularly the first finger and thumb to avoid excessive weight on the wrists.
Shoulders should be away from the ears drawing down the back and there should be a straight line from the wrists to the hips – an inverted V from the hands to the hips to the feet.
The arms should be rotated externally so that the eyes of the elbow creases face each other. Hypermobile people should be careful not to over stretch and have ‘banana’ arms.
Focus on keeping the hips lifted and engaging the quads (which will lift the knees). The heels should be as flat towards the floor as possible.
Benefits of downward dog
Hamstrings, calves and back are stretched and strengthened. It also works the abdominals and strengthens wrists, arms, shoulders and legs.
As an inversion this pose is not advised for people with high blood pressure or heart problems.
Those with back injuries should avoid if pain is felt in the posture.
Bending the knees can help with tight hamstrings or for weak backs. It may also be helpful to “walk the dog” when first in the pose by bending the knees one at a time.
The wrists may benefit from support with blocks or blankets. For those with tight hamstrings using blocks under the hands can improve alignment.
A block between the inner thighs helps with inner rotation.
The heels may be placed against a wall for additional support.
In sun salutation downward dog typically follows a forward fold with perhaps a lunge inbetween.
Alternatively work in cat/cow before bringing the hands forwards and the hips them up into downdog.