I don’t think there is any other pose that is used more often in a yoga class than downward facing dog, yet it is a complex asana (pose) to do when beginning yoga. It is a resting pose that we come back to time and time again during class, and it is also a place for pause during sun salutations. The fact that it does so many good things for so many areas of the body is definitely a good reason for this pose to be so widely used, and the list of benefits is long!

Benefits

  • It is a gentle inversion reversing the effects gravity has on the spine, internal organs and brain
  • It allows you to lengthen your spine and neck
  • Stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches, and hands
  • Strengthens the arms and legs
  • Relieves headache, insomnia, back pain, and fatigue
  • Therapeutic for high blood pressure, asthma, sciatica, sinusitis
  • Calms the brain
  • Relieve stress and mild depression
  • Energizes the body
  • Helps relieve the Symptoms of menopause
  • Helps prevent osteoporosis
  • Improves digestion

Tight hamstrings can make achieving this pose difficult for many people, and the key here is to focus on elongating the spine, before your focus on achieving straight legs and heels to the ground.

When hamstrings are tight and a student forces their legs to straight position, something has to give, so either the spine rounds up eliminating the objective of spinal elongation of this pose as shown below on the left. The other misalignment that happens is the torso comes forward (photo on right) breaking the straight line of energy from wrists to hips, and the pose becomes strained, losing the inversion aspect, the stretch in the shoulders and back, and puts pressure on the wrists.

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To correct both these issues, bend the knees, drawing the weight back, pressing away from the body with the hands, as though you are trying to push the top of the mat away from you, and drawing the chest toward the front thighs to bring the body from wrist to hips into one straight line of energy, and allowing the spine to elongate as shown below.

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From this bent knee position, while keeping the integrity you have established through the back and shoulders, you can begin to work at releasing the hamstrings by working the knees towards straight and eventually working heels down towards the floor.

Shoulder position is another aspect that students often struggle with. On the left hand photo below, you can see how the shoulders have drawn up close to the ears which can cause strain and tension on both the shoulder and neck. By rolling the shoulders away from the ears to broaden the back, it brings better alignment to this area of the pose.

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Another common problem people experience while learning to find the “rest” part of this pose is tenderness in the wrists or shoulder as they work to build strength. Taking the weight down to the knees using “puppy dog” (as shown below) allows you to work on all the above aspects of the pose, while taking some of the strain away, and this variation of the pose can be used at any time during a class in place of Downward Facing Dog.

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Puppy dog up against the wall is also another great position to work on alignment of shoulders and hands, along with working the action of spinal elongation,and releasing hamstrings before you get upside down in Down Dog on the floor.

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Start with feet parallel, hip width apart, walking hands down the wall until you are able to form a sideways “L” shape with your body as shown.hands should be shoulder width apart, rolling shoulders away from ears to broaden the back, pressing into the wall to elongate the entire torso, and working all the aspects discussed above.

Hope this helps you find your Dog!