Have you ever heard your instructor say, "downward facing dog is a resting posture." And every ounce of your being screams from within, "Like hell it is!" Well she's not wrong, but neither are you!
Down dog is a killer strength builder for your upper body and also an intense opening for your hamstrings, low back and chest. Plus, because it is an inversion, your heart rate can lower in this posture after intense flow. With a few simple adjustments, you can find better alignment in downward facing dog, and hopefully more ease (maybe even rest) when you hold this posture.
1) Use all four limbs.
Yes, downward facing dog does build upper body strength. But, that doesn't mean your arms and shoulders need to suffer. By balancing your weight across both your strong arms and legs, you'll take pressure away from your upper body and distribute it more evenly. After all, you are making the shape of an triangle with your tailbone as the apex; geometrically, this is a strong shape. Be sure that both walls of your triangle (arms and legs) are sharing the load.
2) Use all ten fingers.
So often my students dump their weight into their wrists in this posture, slamming the heels of their hands into the mat. Ouch! Give those wrists a break. Press into the pads of your fingers firmly. This will distribute your weight across the entire palm and into the fingers - relieving pressure from your wrists.
3) Keep softness in your knees.
We've all heard the cue, "Lock the knees!" I'd prefer you translate that to, "Engage your thighs." By relying on the powerful muscles of your legs for stabilization, instead of your knees, you will build strength and protect your joints. This is especially important for yogis with hyper-extensive knee joints. An added bonus of having engaged legs, but soft knees is that your tailbone will be able to tilt higher to the sky. In turn you can find more opening across your chest as your heart sinks towards your thighs.
4) Keep space between your heels and the mat.
The goal of downward facing dog is NOT to have your heels to touch the ground. I repeat. The goal of downward facing dog is NOT to have your heels touch the ground. Instead, consider growth and opening to be the success of your posture. If you always keep a smidge of space between your heels and the ground, you will always have more room to develop in your posture.
5) Pull your shoulders back into their sockets.
This seems tricky because when your shoulders are back and down (protracted and depressed) in downward facing dog they actually are rising higher towards your hips. So, instead think of this cue, "Engage your upper back and relax your shoulders away from your ears." This way you won't be wonder which side is up when your tailbone is soaring high to the ceiling.
Rest when you need it. Just because an instructor claims downward facing dog is a resting posture, it might not be for you. That's ok. Take a break in child's pose or come into a table top as a modification. Its your practice.
Send me your down dog picture, or better yet your dog doing down dog. I'll post the best images here on the site.
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