By Nicole Stirbis
Downward Facing Dog is a pose that looks very easy, but is quite challenging, both to one’s strength and flexibility. It is a pose you are likely to encounter in most beginning yoga classes and benefit greatly from overtime. Since, this posture is often seen in advertisements, magazines, and videos, it is often taken for granted. Yet, there are many benefits, precautions, and modifications for Downward Dog.
Downward Facing Dog is technically categorized as a forward bend, which in general quiets the nervous system and supports the immune system. It has many benefits, including developing arm, core, and wrist strength, stretching the shoulders, back, neck, buttocks, hamstrings, and calves, and keeping the feet and toes flexible. Regular Downward Dog practice lays the foundations of strength and flexibility in the arms and shoulders for inversions like Handstand and Forearm stand, and once you are used to it FEELS SUPER!
Adho Mukha Svanasana – For Beginners
Downward Facing Dog is also known as Adho Mukha Svanasana in Sanskrit. There are some contraindications to doing Downward Dog. If you have a wrist, shoulder, elbow, high blood pressure, or neck injury it is better to modify it or skip the pose if you don’t know how to modify it. During a head cold, sinus or ear infection, eye problem, or after recent dental work it’s advisable to avoid the full pose because it puts your head upside down and increases swelling and inflammation, and may decrease healing time.
Coming into the Pose
With all Yoga Poses, there are many many ways to practice. This is a safe and simple way to start.
1) Come to your hands and knees with your wrists under your shoulders, and your fingers spread. Use a yoga mat, or put a folded towel or blanket under you knees if they hurt on the floor.
2) Tuck your toes under, knees hip-width apart, and stretch your hips as far back towards your heels as they go. If the knees hurt to bend deeply, then just go as far as is comfortable.
3) Once you’ve stretched your hips back, slide your hands forward without moving the hips forward, so that from your hips to your fingers you make a straight line. Spread your fingers wide, point your middle fingers straight ahead OR slightly out to the sides, and press both palms completely into the floor. Keep the inside edge of your hand anchored to the floor/mat.
4) Maintain the straight line from wrists to hips and lift your hips up. At this point, the strength of the legs wants to take over to lift and if that happens all the weight comes forward into the hands and wrists and the upper back rounds. To avoid this, keep the knees slightly bent as you LIFT the hips straight UP and BACK, then slowly stretch the heels towards the floor.
5) Congratulations, you are in Downward Facing Dog! Breathe evenly and deeply. When you feel ready, come down and rest with your hips on your heels and your arms forward or by your sides.
Two Modifications for Downward Facing Dog
A) If you have a wrist injury, you can still get many of the benefits of the Downward Dog by using a table or ledge rather than the floor. Place your hands on the ledge or table, palms flat and shoulder-width apart, and spread the fingers wide. Step your feet back and draw your hips away from the hands. You will be in an L shape with the hips at a 90-degree angle.
B) If you don’t feel strong in your arms you can use a wall to help. Spread your hands and fingers in the air and look at the space between the thumbs and index finger. It should look somewhat like an L. Then, keeping the fingers spread, come to the hands and knees on the floor facing a wall. Take the hands down to the floor where it meets the wall. Press the inside of your thumbs and index fingers into the wall so they spread apart. Brace your hands at the wall while keeping the palms flat on the floor. Stretch your hips back to the heels and then lift the hips UP and BACK into Downward Facing Dog.
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Downward Facing Dog – Yoga Teacher Notes
By Jenny Park
Some teachers give standard Downward Facing Dog as an option for rest. Are you serious? A student is experiencing nausea, fatigue, or dizziness, and the solution is an inversion that resembles rest for a military boot camp or a mixed martial arts (MMA) camp. If your student ends up on the floor, who is at fault? Furthermore, should this turn out to be a serious situation like a stroke, what should a Yoga teacher do?
For starters, we should measure our compassion chip. If you feel that’s not the way you roll, because you’re so tough and compassion is only for the weak, you should teach MMA classes and stay out of Yoga. Don’t bother to come back until you feel compassion in your heart. I’m tired of reading about teachers who push the envelope so much that a class barely contains any Yoga at all.
Tell the Truth
If you want to test a group of people for toughness, please label your class truthfully. Bruce Lee and other young Wing Chun practitioners would fight other Kung Fu practitioners on the rooftops of Hong Kong. Today, we have the UFC octagon fighting. My point: Tell the truth! If you want to use Downward Facing Dog for torturing your students; label it: Yoga spanking, punishment, torture or whatever you like, but give your students a heads up. After that, you can all go out to a biker’s bar and call people names.
Now, back to the sane teachers: Modification of Downward Facing Dog is the key to adapting this asana to student needs. We can make this pose gentle, user-friendly, or a lot more challenging. Each student has unique needs. All we have to do is give them what they want or need. Downward Dog is therapeutic, but it can also be bundled into a challenging series. Have fun and don’t hurt anyone. ~ Namaste