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In Praise of Down Dog - Part 2
Tips for Practicing This Asana

Keep the following suggestions in mind (even if you can't do them all!):

(Article continued below.)

  • There is no right or wrong way to begin Down Dog. Some people start with Child's Pose with the arms straight out and then raise up into Cat Pose with the back straight, not arched. Doing it this way helps with your hand and leg placement. But you can also just start from Cat Pose - maybe do a few Cat-Cows to warm up.
  • It's a good idea to warm up your muscles before engaging in a big stretch like Down Dog. You will get more out of the pose. Also, intensely stretching cold muscles could leave you prone to injury.
  • Pay attention to your hips - they should tilt so that your back is flat, not rounded. If your back is not flexible enough to be straight, this is something to work towards.
  • Don't be upset if your heels do not reach the floor. Most people have to work at Down Dog for quite a while before that happens. Do play with your legs - bend your knees for a breath or two and then straighten them. Raise up on your toes and let your heels slowly sink towards the mat. Bend one leg at a time, keeping the other leg straight, and alternate. Spread your toes. Are your arches active? Get to know your legs and feet - their strengths and weaknesses.
  • You're obviously going to feel the stretch in the back of your legs, but don't forget the quadriceps - your front thigh muscles. Tighten those muscles to lift the kneecaps. The thighs should roll slightly inwards. Spread your buttocks as you are tilting your hips - this will help the inner thighs move into alignment.
  • Your neck should be relaxed.
  • Your armpits should face the floor, and your fingers spread. Your arms should feel like they are lengthening and the torso should be lifting away from your arms. Your elbows should squeeze in towards one another. This straightens the arms. Your palm and index finger should press into the mat.
  • Don't put your weight on your wrists! This is a really common mistake. Jane, one of About Yoga's regular Forum visitors, shared a great exercise taught to her by one of her teachers. Here is her post verbatim:

    "Be on your hands and knees with your shoulders directly above your wrists and then just lean back a bit onto your knees. Make sure your hands are set evenly, with your fingers spread, and lift the heels of your hands, keeping the ring of the knuckles and all fingers firmly pressed into the floor. When you do this, you should feel the muscles of your forearms charge up. Lower the heels of your hands, but keep that sense of the muscles of the forearms pulling up from the wrists. When you go into Down Dog, try to maintain that energy, pressing more firmly into the ring of the knuckles and press your middle finger firmly down. Be sure your elbows are in line with your head, and pull back strongly with your thighs. The weight for Downward Dog should be carried in the thighs - all of this should take weight off the wrists and start to strengthen them, rather than allowing them to be the weight-bearing victims of the pose. If you get it just right, it can feel like you are just floating on your hands, and standing firmly in your legs without much pressure on the wrists at all."

  • This almost goes without saying, but even when you are holding Downward Facing Dog for a long time, your attention should never waver. Always stay with the pose.
  • This should also go without saying, but it's always good to remember - let your breath dictate how deeply you go into Down Dog, or any other Yoga pose.
  • When you've had enough, release down onto all fours. If you like, you can rest in Child's Pose.

The best part of Downward Facing Dog is that you don't have to do it perfectly to gain so many benefits. It does you good at any level. Perhaps that's why American Yoga practitioners have taken to it with such enthusiasm - it's truly a democratic pose!

Previous page >> Hooray for Down Dog Days >> Page 1, 2

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