Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward Facing Dog
Downward dog is maybe the most well known yoga asana, even to those who do not practice yoga. Many people visualize this pose before they actually do a class and it may be one of the most widely practiced asanas that I can think of. So for a pose that is so well known and widely practiced, you’d think it would be the easiest pose, right? Wrong! Downward Dog done without proper alignment and engagement can actually cause pain and harm. As we grow up and get used to driving, working at a computer, cooking, etc. our hand muscles tend to tense up. So for many of us, when we first get into down dog, there is wrist pain. This is because our hands are too tense to space out the weight evenly through the “four corners” of your palm. When you’re able to find this rooting, you’ll find that there is zero wrist pain associated with downward dog and that it can actually be a therapeutic pose for the wrists. Learning that engagement in downward dog really helps to set your wrists up for hand/arm balances in your practice. Shoulders tend to be tense for the same reasons as the hands and therefore many people round in their upper back. Once you learn to soften there and draw the shoulders away from the ears, you can get some really nice traction in the pose. By being firmly rooted in your hands while drawing your weight up and back, really helps you to decompress your spine. The hamstrings are another common problem area, everyone wants to get their feet flat on the ground even though this isn’t practical for many people. Learning to bend the knees if your hamstrings are tight will help you to find that length along your entire spine. Often times if you look at pictures of people in downward dog, their upper backs are long, but they are rounding in their low backs close to the tailbone, this is really common and hard to feel in the body. This is another case where you should be bending your knees if this happens to you, that way your pelvis is free to do an anterior tilt, creating length in the low back. So with all that in mind, does downward dog still seem like an “easy” pose? Probably not! This pose invites your entire body to the party and there are so many things to think about, but that’s why I LOVE it so much!