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How to Improve Your Down Dog

How to Improve Your Down Dog

Down Dog is considered one of the yoga poses that creates a solid foundation for nearly any practice. It’s one you’ve probably seen countless times in different yoga sequences. I remember going to classes and yoga teachers would say it was a “resting pose” but how people interpret this shape can be wildly different. I laughed the first time I heard that one since I found it so challenging! I had severe pain in my wrists and could barely hold it for more than a few breaths. Although it can be used for resting, it can also build strength and endurance or act as a transition in any sequence. There’s a lot more to down dog than meets the eye, but anyone can improve with a few simple tips. Here’s a few suggestions that I’ve found helpful over the years.

Check Your Hands

Notice how your hands are spaced and how they connect to your mat. This is really key in down dog since it’s part of the foundation of the pose and where you support your weight. Try placing your hands so your first finger and thumb line up with the outer edge of your shoulder. Then, once you’ve found that placement press down through the tip of your finger and base of your knuckle so your whole hand rests on the mat without any parts raised. There may be space, or the sensation of space at the center of your palm and that’s completely normal.

How Does Your Spine Feel

In down dog one of the key intentions is to maintain a lengthened spine. This is a great way to find a neutral spine after a backbend but fits easefully into many other yoga sequences which include twisting and side bending. Often there’s a desire to keep straight legs, but I feel a lengthened spine is the priority for this asana (a.k.a. pose). If you feel like you’re rounding your spine, try bending your knees and reaching your sit bones higher. It’s great to experiment with even when your spine isn’t rounded, just to see if it creates for more space. You may notice a difference in the quality of how you experience this pose whether it’s in the sensations you feel, or the quality of your breath.

Notice the Little Things

Ask yourself, what needs to be strong and what could be softer in down dog? Start from your foundation (i.e. your hands) and work your way down. Notice the connection in your hands, that slight softness in your elbows, press your shoulders away from your ears and let them rotate outwards. Allow your heart to melt closer to your thighs and reach your sit bones higher. Find strength in your legs as you press out through your heels.

Let Go of the Things You Can’t Control

One of the things I was frustrated with when I first started practicing yoga was how my heels would never reach the mat. Over a decade later, it’s still the same story. So what gives? The reason for this is the variation in the bones of the feet and how they articulate. There’s a big difference between tension and compression which affects the body in many poses. Tension is due to the stretching of a muscle whereas compression is the limitation from the bone structure. When there is compression, the joint has reached its maximum range of motion and no amount of stretching will change that.

One of the greatest gifts about a yoga practice is how different each experience can be. You may have practiced down dog a thousand times but you might notice subtle differences each day. I hope you enjoyed these tips for your down dog and enjoy playing with these alignment cues!

 

About the Author: Emily Kane, owner of Yogacara Whistler and Co-Lead Teacher Trainer for Yogacara Global

I am a passionate yogi, entrepreneur and adventure seeker. I love being outside and connected with nature so it’s not surprising that I love snowboarding. I also enjoy hiking, longboarding, skimboarding and surfing. I appreciate trying new things and if I’m not outside or in the studio you’ll find me hanging out with friends, reading, or cooking up a tasty meal. I am grateful to teach yoga in my beautiful community of Whistler, B.C. and I love sharing my passion through inspiring others.

 

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