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What's a Downward-Facing Dog?

Calendar Tue, 30 Jul 2019Share

Downward-Facing Dog  = Adho Mukha Svanasana

This is one of my favourite Yoga asanas for a reason: it is a very stimulating back, calves and sciatic nerve stretch. It is quite an advanced pose, requiring good shoulder strength but well worth taking time to explore it and feel the benefits. Here is a link to see the pose in action: instagram.com/downwardfacingdog

Step 1

Start in standing position (Tadasana), take a couple of breaths to prepare and slowly bend forward to reach with your hands to the floor (gently bend your knees), walk your hands forward to four point kneeling position.This is where your shoulders are above the hands and hips above the knees. If you fancy a more challenging position then carry on walking your hands forward the plank position. 

In this pose, both if your wrists are extended and under significant load, hence to look after yourself and your wrist I encourage you to position your hands slightly pointing out at a 45 degrees angle. 

Step 2

Lift your knees away from the floor, if you are in the four point kneeling position, raise your hips up towards the ceiling lengthening your back, allow your heels to lower towards the floor for a great calf stretch. 

Step 3

Bring focus to your arms: Firm the outer arms and press the bases of the index fingers actively into the floor. Engage the muscles between the shoulder blades by gently bringing the shoulder blades together. Keep the head between the upper arms; don't let it hang.

(In the video where you can see me demonstrating this pose, personally I have a difficulty with not hyperextending my elbows (due to the fact that I am a little hypermobile), hence in your practice aim to have the elbows straight or gently bent to avoid this common problem). 

Step 4

Hold this pose for several breaths, to come out of this pose return first to the four point kneeling or the plank pose and then walk your hands back to the feet and slowly unroll yourself back to standing (you may want to bend your knees again slightly). 

Repeat and enjoy :)

Important:

As mentioned at the beginning this pose is quite advanced and challenging so be patient and kind to your body, by this I mean to gently get through all the steps and don’t overdo it or push yourself to your limits. 

In a rounded back, rather than an inverted V, the back is curved upwards and the spine is shortened.

This misalignment could be a symptom of tight hip flexors, hamstrings, shoulders, or specific spinal conditions like scoliosis or kyphosis, an excessive rounding of the spine. The opposite scenario occurs for hyper-flexible people where there is an excessive arch in the spine, so watch out for that. 

For the people that are not too flexible, patience and dedication is key. You can bend the knees to shift more weight towards the legs and help traction and elongate the spine. Shrug the shoulders back to create more space around the collar bones and in the shoulders.

For the super flexible students, cultivate more strength here. Resist the urge to let your chest hang through the arms; instead draw the lower ribs into the body and lift your head between the arms, so the ears are parallel to the upper arms and the collar bones are wide.

downward facing dog

 

- Patrycja Maryszczak - Senior Physiotherapist, Active+ Milford