Downward facing dog is probably one of the most recognisable yoga poses and crops up in almost every yoga class. With this pose there’s a lot going on physically, so when starting out, it might feel a little awkward and can be tricky to relax into at first.
So, downward dog helps to build strength, whilst also stretching out the backs of the legs and spine. It’s also a mild inversion, with the hips being elevated above the heart, so great for circulation. I’ve listed 5 checkpoints to downward dog, which might help you during your practise. It’s also good to remember that it is a practise and with time, this pose will become a neutral pose to reset and steady the breath (I didn’t believe my teacher at first either!)
1. Getting into downward dog. Starting in an all fours position, bring the knees directly under the hips and hands shoulder width apart. Use an exhale to lift the knees and tip the tailbone up. Keep a soft bend in the knees as you warm up and drop one heel at a time to stretch out the calves and hamstrings. If you’re feeling tight in the backs if the legs keep the bend in the knees and prioritise a long, straight spine.
2. Distribute the weight. Spread all 10 fingers really wide and press down through the knuckles, protecting the wrists. If you have any issues with your wrists, come down to the forearms or make your hands into fists. Check that you’re distributing the weight evenly between both hands and feet, have a rock back and forth and find that perfect point, where you have 50% in the hands and 50% in the feet.
3. Activate the arms. Keep a soft bend in the elbows to allow space around the neck. Create an external rotation of the upper arms, so the shoulder blades widen and draw down the back. Think about actively pushing the floor away with the arms, using the arm muscles, so you are not putting pressure on the shoulder joint, by hanging into it.
4. Keep the spine long. Just like how the spine is in the all fours position, see if you can maintain that in your downward dog. If the back begins to round, take a bend in the knees and tip the tailbone up, do this by scooping the tummy in and up. The head is an extension of the spine, so look towards the belly button or in between the heels to keep in line.
5. Legs and heels. You may always need to keep a bend in the knees and that’s okay, a straight spine is more beneficial than straight legs. The thighs have an inward rotation, which will allow the sit bones to reach higher to ceiling. Check the feet are hip distance apart, the big toes are slightly turned in and press down through the heels. It’s good to have the heels hovering off the mat, as it actually gives you space to go, so don’t get fixated about getting those heels all the way down.
Below are all valid downward facing dogs. Try to move away from what your downward facing dog looks like and focus on how it feels :)