Spotlight on yoga: Exploring Downward Facing Dog
What Is Downward Facing Dog?
Downward Facing Dog or Adhomukha Svanasana (Ah-doh MOO-kuh shvan-AHS-uh-nuh), as it is known in Sanskrit, is somewhat synonymous with the practice of yoga and is an essential component of sun salutations. You can even buy T-shirts with “I’m Down Dog” emblazoned across the front. Regular yoga practitioners may see it as a rest pose but for those new to yoga the pose comes with its own set of challenges and it can take time before you feel fully comfortable with it.
When practised properly as part of a regular yoga practice its benefits are extensive. As such downward facing dog has a significant role to play in yoga, building strength whilst stretching the entire body. If you’ve ever seen a dog stretching in the sun then you’ll understand how the pose acquired its name. Regular practice can lead to stronger hands, wrists, upper and lower-back, hamstrings and Achilles tendon.
Resembling an upside down letter ‘V’ downward facing dog is classed as a symmetrical forward bend with a mild inversion. Put simply this means that both the left and right side of your body are working in tandem and that your head is lower than your heart (as opposed to above the heart when standing). Its less strenuous than other types of yoga inversions such as head and hand stands but still offers all of the associated benefits such as; relief from insomnia, fatigue, and headaches.
Gravity assists blood flow to the brain, so that your body works smarter and not harder to provide the brain with oxygen and blood, calming the nervous system whilst simultaneously improving memory, concentration and processing abilities. Inversions can also relieve stress but that will depend on your symptoms.
Downward facing dog is an energising pose and, depending on its position in a yoga sequence, can be used to transition between poses, as resting pose or as a strength builder.
- Begin on all fours (table top) position.
- Check alignment of hands, elbows and shoulders (these should be stacked).
- Check alignment of knees and feet (hip width apart – this is calculated from your hip bones rather than the outside of your hips).
- Hands flat, fingers spread, take the weight through the whole of your hand.
- Exhale as you tuck your toes and raise your seat to the sky, taking care not to arch your back as you do so.
- Gently begin to straighten your legs (pedal the feet if your hamstrings feel tight).
- With straight legs take care not to lock your knees.
- Draw your shoulders away from your ears and broaden your chest. if you feel any pinching in the shoulders or neck take your hands a little wider.
- To begin with practice coming in and out of the pose, holding very briefly, extending the breath hold as you become more comfortable with the posture.
This pose is perfect for those who experience wrist strain when doing downward facing dog. Try the pose dynamically gently bending the knees to the mat and then pushing seat to sky once more and straightening the legs.
Three Legged Dog
Once you have mastered your downward facing dog gently raise one leg to the sky, taking care not to open out at the hips. Hips should continue to face down toward the mat. let the leg come to wherever feels comfortable before the hips start to open to the side.
Revolved Downward Facing Dog
This is definitely one for those who have mastered Down Dog. Once in Down Dog walk the right hand back toward the left ankle, taking hold of the outside of the ankle and allowing the chest to shine to the left side of the mat. Repeat on the right side.
You may find that your heels don’t touch the floor in downward facing dog and that is absolutely fine. Over time as you gain more ease in the pose your heels may come closer to the ground but likewise they may not and that will depend on your physical make up and hamstring flexibility. For those with tighter hamstrings, such as runners, I’d suggest pedalling your feet to begin with, working on hamstring flexibility one leg at a time. Additionally yoga blocks can be places under each heel to provide additional support. You can also pad under the wrists with a light blanket to take any pressure off the wrist.
For more information on how to use yoga props effectively in your practice please click here.