Are you looking for some top tips to improve your Down Dog?
Down Dog is often seen as a transition or resting pose but it can cause a few challenges.
Add on the fact that you will probably do Down Dog several times a class it is pretty important that we find a way of including it in our practice that supports rather than frustrates us.
This post is for anyone who has a love-hate relationship with their Dog. Read on to see how you can help yourself improve your experience of the pose.
The Meaning Of Down Dog
Down Dog in Sanskrit (the language of yoga) is Adho Mukha Svanasana. Adho in Sanskrit means downward, mukha, means face, and svana is a dog.
The posture is so-called because it looks like the exact position a dog does naturally when it is having a good stretch or in a playful mood. The very nature of this pose is such and can easily be adapted and varied to suit your goal, mood, or needs for any particular day.
About The Pose
Adho Mukha Svanasana is an arm balance, mild inversion, and labelled as a resting or transitional pose.
Don’t be fooled though; as a pose on its own, it requires a decent amount of strength in the upper and lower body, it also requires quite a bit of functional mobility in the shoulders, hips, wrists and ankles. This is why the pose can feel pretty challenging for many of us. However, with the useful tips, I am going to explain below, you learn to love your Down Dog.
Benefits of Down Dog
There are lots of benefits of Down Dog but below are the main ones:
- Builds strength and stability in the shoulders.
- Stretches the backs of the legs and improves circulation.
- Inversions get the blood flowing to the brain and allows the heart a chance to relax.
- When done well it strengthens and balances out the deep core muscles.
- Lengthens out the spine beautifully.
From my experience as a teacher and student below are a few reasons why Down Dog might be challenging. Unfortunately, our modern lifestyles are the main culprit to most of these, creating postural imbalances which cause our body discomfort when we try and move it in a different way.
Spending any amount of time in Down Dog can cause significant wrist soreness or pain.
Stiff, painful or achy shoulders
For some, it is felt in the shoulders and neck as either a nagging ache or discomfort. Your shoulders may feel weak as well. If you have discomfort in the shoulders you are likely to suffer from sore wrists tool; the two tend to create a domino effect.
Back stiffness and/or pain
Some people suffer from a sense of soreness or stiffness in the back which can create a domino effect in the shoulders and down the backs of the leg causing discomfort.
Tight Backs of Legs
As with any tightness in the back, Down Dog can highlight any grumpiness down the backs of the legs (your hamstrings and calf muscles). If you struggle with tight hamstrings and calf muscles it will be very difficult to get the heels to the floor. To be honest, this is not a big deal at all (and not the actual intention of Down Dog).
Top Tips To Improve Your Down Dog and Make It Your Own
As mentioned all of the issues above are ultimately caused by our modern lifestyles. We are spending so much time sitting in front of our electrical devices that we are creating some limitations in the body. This makes it really hard to balance the weight properly between the arms and the legs and make the pose feel good through the spine.
However, with a bit of smart thinking, you can modify your Down Dog so that you can remedy the above problems and work towards a stronger happier relationship with this pose. Below are a few tips to help you:
Sore wrists in Down Dog can be caused by a lack of mobility and strength in the wrists. It can also be triggered by postural imbalances including rounded shoulders and forward head posture. Finally, if you don’t use the legs properly whilst holding Down Dog you will put too much weight on the wrists.
To help try and add in some wrist mobility and strength drills. You can try placing your hands on blocks (make sure they can’t slip), on the seat of a chair, or on the wall.
This will shift how you’re bearing weight in the pose and can be helpful in solving the other challenges that Down Dog can cause. You can also get proper wrist blocks (pictured below). These can really help reduce the strain put on the wrists by reducing the amount of flexion in the joint.
Achy/Painful Neck and Shoulders
Achy, painful tight neck and shoulders are usually caused by a restriction in the upper body. If you suffer from rounded shoulders and/or a forward head posture then this is going to contribute to this lack of mobility.
The first thing you can try is taking the hands further apart (width ways) and seeing if that helps. Otherwise, try placing the hands on blocks (as described above) or on the seat of a chair or wall.
Another thing that can be helpful is to place a belted strap around the upper arms (fastened at shoulder width). This can help you develop stronger shoulders so that they can hold the pose with more ease.
Tightness in the backs of the legs combined with discomfort in the back.
If the heels are high off the ground, this usually indicates tightness in the hamstrings, hip flexors, or calf muscles. This also likely means much of the body weight rests on the wrists as you will not be able to use the legs properly.
The best tip for this issue is the bend the knees. Simple but very effective. Down Dog is not about straight legs at all so don’t feel that you are not performing the pose properly if the knees are bent.
Think experience over the shape you make.
Thanks to Instagram we can easily get caught up in the details of how the body looks in a yoga pose as opposed to how it actually feels. The true intention of yoga is about building ease, stability, and comfort in the body.
It is nothing to do with how something looks. So, I invite you to feel your way into the pose.
Ask yourself, where you are feeling at ease in the body and where you are working. How can you change the shape of the pose to help your body feel more aligned and stable?
Make the pose work for you; not the other way around.
Consider just skipping the pose.
You are allowed to skip a pose if it doesn’t feel right for you on any particular day. This is the practice of yoga. there are other poses you can do like a Child’s pose. Yoga is about serving your needs at any particular time so you do you. It’s your practice. Also, don’t forget its kneeling cousin – Puppy pose. Both make great replacements.
Try My Short Tutorial Below