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WHOLE POSE: DOWNWARD FACING DOG

Welcome to the first pose of our new “Whole Pose” feature which we hope to evolve into it’s own page as a resource for students and teachers. We will be adding once post per month as a starting goal.

DOWNWARD FACING DOG
Ahdo Mukah Savasana, or downward facing dog, is one of the most commonly taught yoga poses. It is a staple of the traditional Sun Salutation which is a foundational, flowing cornerstone of most modern yoga. This pose is probably the most universally recognizable yoga posture, even by those who don’t practice yoga.

POSE TYPE
Forward Bend

BENEFITS
Downward dog strengthens upper-body muscles in arms, shoulders, and back and elongates hamstrings, calves, and the achilles tendon. When paired with breath awareness such as a simple, even breath through the nose, or more advanced ujjayi pranayama (ocean breath, a nasal breath with slight constriction in throat), this pose calms the nervous system and helps promote healthy digestion as the belly softens toward the spine upon exhale.  

HOW TO PRACTICE

Active Extended Child’s Pose as Down Dog Prep

A great way to prepare for downward facing dog is finding proper alignment in active, extended child’s pose.

STEP BY STEP

  • From a table-top position, push hips back toward the heels with toes curled under
  • Stretch arms out alongside ears, pushing palms into the floor
  • Look forward. Hands should be about shoulder distance apart and middle fingers parallel
  • Fan fingers wide, press first fingers and thumbs into floor, and grip pads of fingers
  • Roll inner arms toward outer arms so that elbow creases turn slightly upwards
  • Draw shoulder blades away from the ears, lifting underarms up into the body
  • Lift belly off the legs slightly as you push the heels of the hands down and forward
  • Lengthen from pinky fingers back to hip creases and lengthen tailbone between heels
  • Lift knees up off the floor to arrive in downward dog, engaging quadriceps
  • Knees are bent very slightly and open apart slightly
  • Inner thighs spiral up and back toward ceiling
  • Descend heels toward floor
  • Soften down through crown of head
  • Hold for 3-5 breaths, or 1-3 minutes

WAYS TO MODIFY
It takes a repetition and time for downward dog to feel second nature. At first it can feel clunky and hard on hands and wrists. As body opens and gains strength over time, the wrist and hand discomfort will ease. Here are some ways to modify:

  • Place the edge of a blanket underneath the palms
  • Use blocks under your hands
  • Practice with hands on edge of a folding chair instead of the floor
  • Take an active child’s pose instead

SARA’S TIPS
Both hands and both feet should have equal weight distribution. If your hands are taking too much weight, try bending your knees more deeply and lifting sitting bones to bring more length to the lower back (lumbar spine).

Don’t ignore your core in downward dog. Imagine the lower ribs wrapping back toward the spine in a soft, focused way. For more inward focus and exploration, try closing your eyes and tuning in to subtleties of gripping or tension.

As with all poses, aim for steadiness and ease. If your breath is strained, come out of the pose and take child’s pose or rest on your belly until you return to a sense of calm.

Namaste.

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