Let's all breathe in together..... and sigh out a big exhale and relax. Usually that's the sound made when coming into your first Downward Dog of the day. Of course if your hamstrings and hips or shoulders are tight, you'll let out a few grunts, but like most forward bends, the function of relaxation and total body stretching out ways the groans.
Downward Dog is an extremely popular pose in most Yoga sequences. Ashtanga, Hatha, Vinyasa, Power, Anusara, Hot Vinyasa all use this excellent pose to warm the big muscle groups and strengthen the arms and shoulders for the rigors of a more strength building practice. Downward Dog focuses on stretching the shoulders, mid back, hamstrings, calves, arches of the feet, hips and hands. The "yoga buzz" you might feel at the end of class, when mind, body and breath are in alignment are often directly related to downward dog. Yoga Therapists have known for along time the benefits of forward bending and stretching to calm the mind , ease mild depression and anxiety.
Ok, let's examine this pose more closely and practice.
1. Set your mat, and come to hands and knees (Cat/Cow) from there tuck your toes under, ground the palms and first finger and thumb toward the floor and come to Downward Dog. Set your feet hip width apart, and lift up on your tipy toes. Once on your toes, you'll take the pressure off your hamstrings so you can roll your shoulders back, straighten your spine, lift your sit bones to the ceiling.
2. As you're lifting everything up, LENGTHEN, your heels to the floor, without rounding back and shoulders. Remember when you were in eight grade, chewing gum, if you clenched 1/2 the gum in your teeth and pulled the other half out like string, THAT'S lengthening. If your shoulders hunch, put a bend in your knees, grind your palms more firmly and press your chest closer to your legs.
3. While holding Downward Dog for 5-10 breaths, engage your core and lift your knee caps, keep micro adjusting shoulders and lengthening. Rest, by coming down to Child's pose or Cat/Cow.
1. If you have shoulder, wrist or acute hamstring, eye injury, please do yourself a favor and HEAL before coming into a full on Downward Dog. You can get the benefits of a hamstring stretch by lying on your back, and strapping up a lifted leg and gently pulling it toward you. Go slow.
2. If you can't yet comfortably ground your palms, grab two blocks as support props under your hands and come into the pose. You can also use a strap around your upper arms for more stability if your elbows poke out.
Like any yoga pose or practice, please consult your instructor before continuing if you have an injury or contraindication. I work with a lot of athletes, and often they work with incredible pain to stay on the field. Coaches have different theories on this, but my feeling as a Yoga Coach is if you are in acute pain, stop and examine what's going on. I like to push people to there limit, not drive them into pain.
That being said, enjoy. Downward Facing Dog is one of my favorite poses and this combined with stretching hips, neck and a slight back bend, and sitting in silence for 5 minutes, can be your whole practice routine to re focus and energize your body daily.