A Downward Dog Tutorial
This week I bring you a Downward Dog Tutorial. As I was writing this one I found myself feeling super scattered and I realized there is so so so much to say about this one pose. It’s so foundational in yoga and there are so many details to consider. I’ve done my best to give a lot of detail without bogging you down with detail. So if you’re really
Getting Into the Pose:
Start in tabletop pose with the knees under the hips and the hands rooted firmly into the ground underneath the shoulders. Keep pressure even throughout the palm, ensuring that the thumb and forefinger don’t begin to lift up.
Ensure that the fingers are spread wide, weight in distributed evenly among the 4 corners of the palm, and that the wrist creases are aligned with the front of the mat. Consciously press downward in the knuckle of the forefinger so that it doesn’t lift up.
As you inhale curl the toes under and then exhale to lift the knees just slightly off the mat. Keep breathing steadily with the knees hovering about an inch or two above the mat, in order to get accustomed to the feeling of carrying weight in the hands. Feel the core engage strongly.
On a deep exhale pull the naval actively back towards the spine to engage the core. At the same time press actively down into the entire palm of each hand in order to press the hips back and up. Start out with the knees deeply bent in order to encourage the pelvis to tip forward and the tail bone to reach back and up.
Keep the neck in line with the spine by imagining length through the sides of the neck. On each inhale continue to breathe space between the shoulder blades and externally rotate the shoulders encouraging the shoulder blades to wrap around the sides of the body towards the chest. On each exhale, maintain the strength and stability in the upper body as you actively spiral the inner thighs back and keep working the legs towards straight, encouraging the pelvis to continue its forward tilt. Over time, as you start to become more comfortable, begin to reach the heels down towards the floor. Remember to rest in Childs Pose after holding this pose for an extended period of time.
Standing Downward Dog is a variation that can be taken at a wall. Particularly for those with less upper body strength this can be a way to find your alignment and build confidence without getting risking injury to the shoulder girdle. Stand facing a wall a little more than one leg’s distance from the wall. Reach the hands out, shoulder-width apart, to press into the wall. Keep the neck in line with the spine, gazing down, as you begin to slowly work the hands down towards hip-level. You may need to adjust the location of the feet forward or backwards to reach 90 degrees in the hips. Keep the hips pulling back, thighs spiraling back, and the spine long. On each inhale continue to solidify the alignment in the shoulder, and every exhale try to bring a deeper stretch into the hamstrings. Once the spine begins to round, you’ve gone too far. Keep working at this until you are comfortable standing with the arms at 90 degrees against the wall
Tips, Tricks, and Modifications:
If the line between the wrists and the hips is not straight then try bending the knees more deeply. This will allow you to isolate most of the work to the upper half of the body while the hamstrings warm up.
If the line between the wrists and the hips is still not straight with the legs deeply bent try either moving the hands just wider than the shoulders, rotating the fingers out so that the space between thumb and forefinger is aiming straight forward, or bringing the hands up onto blocks and continue actively pressing the hands down in order to encourage the hips back.
If you’re feeling wobbly and having a hard time locking in the shoulders then take your Downward Dog to the wall to get the same stretch with less downward pressure in the shoulder girdle.
If you’re having a hard time holding the posture, then take a break! Just drop down to Childs Pose to rest and then press back up when you’re ready.
If you encounter pain in the wrists focus strongly on pressing evenly with all 4 corners of the palm and try to imagine energy running all the way out the tips of the fingers. We tend to rest all of our weight in the heel of the palm, putting undue pressure on the wrist. Try to spread the weight of the body forward on the hand.
If you continue to encounter pain in the wrists, try moving onto fists, with the inside of the fists facing inwards towards each other.
If you find yourself experiencing shoulder pain in this pose, first of all, listen to your body! Pain means we’ve moved out of a safe range of motion and alignment, so heed the warning! Notice the placement of the shoulder blades in this pose. If you’re experiencing shoulder pain then it’s likely you aren’t properly externally rotating the shoulders. Imagine the shoulder blades laying flush over the back ribs and wrapping around the sides of the body. Sometimes it helps to visualize rotating the biceps up so that the triceps are aimed back towards the body.
Great tutorial! This is one pose I used to think was “easy” and “resting” until we really broke it down in teacher training, then I realized how intense it truly was!
Thanks Angie! I never really found it restful, but once I learned more about the nuances, and practiced that alignment I finally got to the point where I actually can find some restoration there. I NEVER thought that would happen. The practice is always surprising me 🙂