By Nicole Stirbis
Downward Facing Dog is a pose that looks very easy but is quite challenging, both to ones strength and ones flexibility. It is a pose you are likely to encounter in most beginning yoga classes and benefit greatly from over time.
Downward Facing Dog is technically categorized as a forward bend, which in general quiet the nervous system and support the immune system. It has many benefits, including developing arm, core and wrist strength, stretching the shoulders, back, neck, buttocks, hamstrings and calves, and keeping the feet and toes flexible . Regular Downward Dog practice lays the foundations of strength and flexibility in the arms and shoulders for inversions like Handstand and Forearm stand, and once you are used to it FEELS SUPER!
There are some contraindications to doing Downward Dog. If you have a wrist, shoulder elbow or neck injury it is better to modify it or skip the pose if you don’t know how to modify. During a head cold, sinus or ear infection, eye problem or after recent dental work it’s advisable to avoid the full pose because it puts your head upside down and increases swelling and inflammation and may decrease healing time.
Coming into the Pose.
With all Yoga Poses, there are many many ways to practice. This is a safe and simple way to start.
1) Come to your hands and knees with your wrists under your shoulders, and your fingers spread. Use a yoga mat, or put a folded towel or blanket under you knees if they hurt on the floor.
2) Tuck your toes under, knees hip width apart, and stretch your hips as far back towards your heels as they go. If the knees hurt to bend deeply, then just go as far as is comfortable.
3) Once you’ve stretched your hips back , slide your hands forward without moving the hips forward, so that from your hips to your fingers you make a straight line. Spread your fingers wide, point your middle fingers straight ahead OR slightly out to the sides, and press both palms completely into the floor. Keep the inside edge of your hand anchored to the floor/mat.
4) Maintain the straight line from wrists to hips and lift your hips up. At this point the strength of the legs wants to take over to lift and if that happens all the weight comes forward into the hands and wrists and the upper back rounds,. To avoid this, keep the knees slightly bent as you LIFT the hips straight UP and BACK, then slowly stretch the heels towards the floor.
5) Congratulations, you are in Downward Facing Dog! Breathe evenly and deeply. When you feel ready, come down and rest with your hips on your heels and your arms forward or by your sides.
Some Modifications for Downward Facing Dog
A) If you have a wrist injury, you can still get many of the benefits of the Downward Dog by using a table or ledge rather than the floor. Place your hands on the ledge or table, palms flat and shoulder width apart and spread the fingers wide. Step your feet back and draw your hips away from the hands. You will be in an L shape with the hips in a 90 degree angle.
B) If you don’t feel strong in your arms you can use a wall to help . Spread your hands and fingers in the air and look at the space between the thumbs and index finger. It should look somewhat like an L. Then, keeping the fingers spread,come to the hands and knees on the floor facing a wall. Take the hands down to the floor where it meets the wall. Press the inside of your thumbs and index fingers into the wall so they spread apart . Brace your hands at the wall while keeping the palms flat on the floor. stretch your hips back to the heels and then lift the hips UP and BACK in to Downward Facing Dog.
Happy Yoga-ing! 🙂
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