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Downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana) is the quintessential yoga pose, the name of which is known worldwide by both practitioners and non-practitioners of yoga.
This pose calms your nerves, aids in digestion, strengthens your arms and legs, stretches the backside of your body as well as your shoulders and hands, and is therapeutic for high blood pressure, sciatica, and sinus related problems.
Begin on hands and knees. Align your hips over your knees and your wrists slightly ahead of your shoulders. Keep your toes tucked. Spread your fingers wide and broaden your palms on the ground beneath you.
On an exhale, press into your hands and feet as you lift your knees and hips away from the earth. Keep your knees bent to start, without rushing to get your heels to the floor. Your focus in the pose should be spine first, heels second.
As you press through your wrists, feel the energy draw back up to activate your arms. Feel as though your thumbs want to draw in magnetically toward one another, which will slightly rotate your forearms inward. Use the opportunity here to observe the effects of the arms and the legs on the spine.
Press firmly down into the entire span of your hands and down the length of each finger. Bring awareness to rooting down the knuckle of your first finger as a means to balance pressure in your wrist. Press the earth away. Feel the rebound effect of this rooting action in the natural lengthening thru the wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints.
Begin to extend through the backs of your knees, but don’t force your heels to the ground. When the muscles in the backs of the legs are ready to lengthen, they’ll lengthen. Be patient and enjoy your place in the journey.
Press your chest to your thighs. Firm your thighs and press the tops of your femurs strongly back. Root into the balls of your feet – this will contribute to lifting your inner arches and engaging pada bandha.
Keep your shoulders away from your ears to create more space in the neck. Your shoulder blades should be rooted against your back ribs while spreading your shoulder blades out and away from your spine. Firm your shoulder blades and feel them draw toward your tailbone. This will broaden your upper back and creates space as well as stability in the pose.
In terms of breath, this pose is considered an inversion. Inversions naturally move the diaphragm toward the head, the exhaling actions of the abdominals can be quite deep. Keep your lower abs engaged when initiating the inhale. The bodily structures you use to breathe are encouraged to mobilize. This can be challenging in a pose like this that requires arm support
If you’re beginning your yoga journey, downward facing dog may seem difficult – and it may be frustrating when this is sometimes referred to as a ‘resting’ pose. Don’t stress. Strength and stamina build in increments. Savor your place in the journey.
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Down dog with feet on blocks cantilevers more weight into the hands. The extra length under the legs via the blocks grows your legs another 6 inches! This makes it a little easier to hike one leg up as our first hamstring offering! I keep the blocks hip with here requiring more stabilizing effort along the midline to take one leg up without swing in the hips to one side. The feet don’t have to come right together on the midline to prepare for a one legged dog!
Check out this sequence for before or after a long journey!