One of the most popular Yoga poses, the downward facing dog has an excellent reputation for increasing flexibility and strength in the body.
Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) Step-By-Step Instructions
Start by standing in the mountain pose. This will allow you to make a smooth transition to the down-facing position by providing a quick warm-up.
Next, set an intention. Place your palms in a prayer position and dedicate a few seconds to finding the purpose of your practice. If you cannot think of anything at the moment, that is fine. However, most of us usually have one major goal in mind.
Place your palms and knees on the floor. Position your knees under your hips, and bring your palms forward from your shoulders by a few inches.
Spread your palms and make sure your index fingers are parallel to each other. Take a big breath.
While you exhale and inhale through your, nose try the ujjayi breathing technique to prepare your body for a more challenging pose.
Slowly lift your knees away from the floor. Start by keeping the knees slightly bent and the heels lifted from away from the floor (we will correct that later). Push your tailbone away from your pelvis and bring it closer to the pubis. Raise your sitting bones toward the sky. Then, starting from your ankles, pull your inner legs up toward your groins.
While exhaling, drive your upper thighs back and push your heels toward the floor. Next, straighten out your knees without locking them. Tighten the outside of your thighs and pull the top of your thighs inward. Once you do this, squeeze your pelvis.
Tighten the outer portions of your arms and push your index fingers against the ground. Also, tighten your shoulder blades and bring them toward your back, and spread them out again and pull them toward your tailbone. Make sure to keep your head between your arms and avoid letting it dangle.
Try maintaining this pose for 1 to 3 minutes. Following this, bring your knees to the floor while exhaling. Finish it off by relaxing in a Child’s Pose
They are a few instances when you should either proceed with caution or avoid this pose altogether:
- You suffered injuries in the past
- You suffer from cramps
- You feel abdominal pain and discomfort
- You are in a late-term pregnancy
- You suffer from migraines and hypertensions
Also, the downward-facing dog is not recommended for Yoga practitioners who are just getting started. The pose can be a little bit challenging even for those who already have strong arms and legs.
Downward Facing Dog Benefits
The downward facing dog not only helps you gain strength, as it forces your body to put pressure on both your legs and arms, but it also comes with other benefits linked to well-being and stress related illnesses.
To give you an idea of how the pose can help you, I have compiled a short list of the most obvious benefits of the downward facing dog:
- Improves your flexibility
- Increases the lean mass on legs and arms
- Can help relieve PMS
- Lowers the risk of osteoporosis
- Can help with stiff backs and back pain
- Improves posture by strengthening back muscles
When paired with a correct breathing technique it can bring relief to mild depression and anxiety suffers .
To get the most out of it, make sure you pair it with a healthy diet and drink plenty of water.
Challenging Versions of the Pose
If you are up for a challenge, you can always inhale and raise your right leg in the air while keeping it perfectly straight.
As you exhale, lower your right leg slowly back to the initial position. Before doing so, keep the leg up in the air for maximum 30 seconds.
Repeat the same process with your left leg with the same length of time.
While the downward facing dog is a simple yet powerful pose, there are some common pitfalls that beginners face when trying to hold during the first few times.
1. Keeping your palms and legs too far apart or too close together
When your palms and legs are too close to each other, you will do not have enough room to expand your spine.
Many beginners make this mistake because they believe their heels must stay on the floor. However, that is not necessary.
When your legs and palms are too far apart, the pose looks more like an modified plank and it does not bring the same benefits.
To correct this, go into a plank position and slowly lift your hips upward to reach the pose.
2. A lot of bulging on your upper back
When your upper back is very tensed, you can injure yourself. You can solve this problem by turning your triceps away from the mat.
How to Make the Downward Facing Dog Feel Better
Sometimes, our bodies are not as compliant as we would like them to be. This is why it is important to know that the downward facing dog is customizable.
If your legs are the problem, and you feel like you cannot keep them strength, then try holding the pose with your knees slightly bent and knees raised.
Another way to help your legs feel more comfortable is to keep your knees slightly bent while your heels rest on a rolled mat or towel.
If your problem area is your arms, you can always bend one elbow and leave the other one extended.
Who Can Benefit the Most from the Pose?
The downward facing dog pose is perhaps one of the most popular poses of Ashtanga, a vigorous style of yoga.
Many practitioners make the mistake and force themselves into holding this pose without knowing that not everyone benefits from it.
Only a certain demographic can get the benefits without risking injuries.
When deciding whether to do the downward facing dog, consider the following:
- Fitness level
- Previous injuries
This pose is not meant to be used by beginners, even though many yogis mistakenly incorporate it in courses aimed at people who are just getting started.
Because many of you are encouraged to try this pose, I put together a list of signs you should look out for in case your performance seems subpar:
- You have difficulty breathing while holding the pose
- You feel pain while holding the pose
- Your legs or arms tremble
The first sign applies to any pose. Yoga is all about relaxation, meditation, and mindfulness. The workout, calories burned, and the strength you build are secondary.
Therefore, it makes sense that you should be able to breathe comfortably during the pose in order to reach that relaxed state. If you are struggling to breathe while holding the pose, this means you need to wait a little longer and develop your strength.
Pain should never be ignored. It is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it is a signal our bodies give us to warn us that something is wrong.
If you are experiencing pain during any pose, stop. Pain is not a normal part of the process and often leads to injuries.
If your legs and arms are shaking a bit, it means that you either struggle to hold your torso (lacking strength) or your central nervous system is wearing out (this also happens after you just finished an intense workout).
If you do not have enough strength in your body to hold the posem or if you suffer from an injury but are still committed to getting the benefits of the downward facing dog, there are two modifications that can help you out.
1. Use a Chair
If you have wrist issues, or your mobility is not that great, you can always put your hands on a chair, sofa, or stairs. Play with different angles and find one that is comfortable for your body.
2. Use a Wall
This modification is great for people who want to focus on their backs while not putting much strain on their wrists.
Start by putting your hands as high on the wall as you feel comfortable and keep your spine straight.
The Difference Between Just Holding a Pose and Doing Yoga
While there are many benefits that you can get just by holding the poses, simply doing the asanas is not Yoga.
If you want to get the whole package, keep reading.
Many think of the aesthetic aspect of the Yoga practices, especially in Western society where Yoga is mostly thought of as just a number of poses.
The truth is that Yoga is not the poses. The poses are just another tool used to enter a state of mindfulness. Yoga helps us meditate and increase our awareness.
The idea behind Yoga is to create a change inside yourself. The exterior aspect is secondary to the inner goal. So, if you want to get the most out of your yoga poses, you should consider including pranayama and mindfulness practices in your routine.
A Holistic Approach to the Downward Facing Dog
Because I already mentioned that Yoga is not only about the poses, I am going to include the practices that should be followed while working on your asanas, specifically the ones we are covering today.
Yoga has what are called “limbs”, and there are 8 of them in total.
The 8 limbs of Yoga help you get a full experience on the mat. They also contribute to a disciplined healthy mind.
Without the 8 limbs, any Yoga pose, including the one mentioned above is incomplete, since Yoga is a spiritual path and the asanas are just one step in the journey of finding happiness.
The 8 Limbs of Yoga
1. Yama- the Ethical Standards of Yoga
There are five yamas any Yoga practitioner should follow, and they all focus on non-violence, truth, integrity and self-restraint for the good of others.
If you enter a Yoga studio, you will soon find out that, unlike many other studios, there are rules that touch on these ethical standards.
Nyama focuses on creating good habits for ourselves, such as cleanliness, discipline, and meditation.
The good habits can also include things like making some time for yourself every day and being more giving to others.
3. Asanas-The Body Is the Temple of the Spirit
The Asanas are the poses that we practice in Yoga classes, or even in the comfort of our own homes.
The role of Asanas is to improve our ability to focus and to become more disciplined. These are qualities that can help us meditate.
4. Pranayama -Life Force Extension
Pranayama is the Yoga practice that deals with breathing techniques meant to help us transform the way we consummate the vital energy (oxygen).
Yogis believe that the correct breathing technique not only benefits us temporarily, but it can also can extend your lifespan.
Breathing techniques should also be done with care, since exhaling for too long can do more harm than good.
5. Pratyahara-Shutting down the Outside World
Our bodies are constantly bombarded with stimuli, even when we are resting in quiet environments.
The practice of Pratyahara entails detachment from the outside world and a focus on what is on the inside.
6. Dhrana-Increased Focus
If the fifth limb is about detaching ourselves from the outside world, the sixth is preparing us for meditation by focusing on only one object.
It could be a candle or your breathing. Anything that helps you stay focused on just one thing is fine.
7. Dhyana-Awareness Without Focus
While Dhrana might sound similar to Dhyana, the latter focuses on quieting all the thoughts in our mind and bringing us to a state where we are aware of what is happening around us without being distracted by our thoughts.
8. Samadhi- the Higher State of Consciousness
The final stage of Yoga is living in the present and detaching yourself from desires that might lead to unhappiness.
Did you benefit from this article? Did I miss anything? Any feedback or suggestions would be appreciated – please post in the comments and I will personally respond!
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