“Be the person your dog thinks you are”
Downward Facing Dog, or Adho Mukha Svanasana, is an absolute go-to pose if you want to prepare for many other poses. If you go to a class, you’re sure to get instructed in to a down dog at one point or another. This is because it truly does wonders for many parts of the body.
Downward Facing Dog stretches the shoulders, hamstrings and calves. It energises the body and helps to wake up your hands and the arches in your feet. This pose strengthens your arms and your legs and is said to help with fatigue and back pain. It also calms the nervous system and could help to relieve menstrual pain / discomfort when practiced with the head supported.
So with all the above reasons and many more, it’s a great idea to know how to practice it safely so that you really can reap all the benefits. Read further for a step by step guide how to practice this pose safely.
If you are pregnant, or suffer from Carpal tunnel Syndrome or diarrhoea, do not practice this pose. If you suffer from high blood pressure, try supporting your head below so that your arms are still in line with your ears.
Urdhva Hastasana – Upwards Salute
Uttanasana – Forward Fold (above)
Phalankasana – Plank Pose
Step by Step Guide
Start in all fours with your hands directly below your shoulders, knees directly beneath the hips and toes tucked under. Press down through the four corners of your palms and have the fingers spread wide with the centre of the palm slightly lifted off the floor, kind of like a suction cup action. This is Hasta Bandha (click link for more information) and is very important for grounding and balance in poses, as we always work from the ground up. Downwards Facing Dog can help us to gain good hand function to the floor.
Lift your knees a couple of inches from the floor and feel how muscles in the belly and the pelvic floor might lightly engage, keep that work going to create good support for your lower back. As you next exhale, keep the knees bent but lift the hips up and back. As you are doing this, lightly press your tailbone towards your pubis and at the same time lift the sit bones towards the ceiling behind.
The hips will lift as high and as far back as they comfortably can if we keep the knees bent for now (especially if we have tight hamstrings). We’re looking for length throughout the torso and the spine, including lenth in the lower back, and then we can look for a sense of openness around the shoulder joints. Don’t worry if you feel a bit tight there, a few breaths might help to relax them.
After a couple of rounds of breath, you can work with lowering your heels to the ground below. You may not be able to land them and that’s fine. If, when you lower the heels you feel your upper back rounding outwards, go back to having the knees slightly more bent in order to keep length in the spine and the torso.
Stay here for 5 rounds of breath and focus on your Hasta Bandha and your alignment, and try not to worry if your legs don’t want to straighten, that’s not what the pose is about. To come out of this you can gently land your knees on an exhale to either come in to an all fours position or Adho Mukha Virasana.