downward facing dog  for athletesBy: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed 

As we rapidly approach the zenith point of the Summer Solstice, the temperatures are rising steadily and the deep-green color of the leaves is expanding into its fullness. By aligning yourself with the expansive and abundant energy of summer, you will feel energized and rejuvenated. The warmth of the sun’s healing rays also helps to increase the function of the immune system, lower inflammation throughout the body and boost your mood naturally. By exercising out in nature under the warmth of the sun’s rays, you will increase the benefits of your exercise regime substantially.

Of course, it is always prudent to wear an appropriate sun screen if you are out in the mid-day sun and to stay well hydrated when the temperatures are high. Taking care of yourself during the summer months also includes maintaining a strong awareness of your body during and after your training sessions or recreational outdoor activities. It is not uncommon for many Yoga practitioners to increase their level of physical activity during the warmer months of the year.

When we increase our physical activity level, the risk of sports-related injuries often increases. This is especially true of vulnerable areas of the body, such as the Achilles tendons, hamstrings and lower back. The shoulders and wrists are also quite vulnerable to repetitive sports-related injuries, hence the phrase “tennis-elbow.” The type of injuries that a Yogi or Yogini may experience usually depends on a combination of personal history and the kind of activity he or she is engaging in. For example, if you tend to have tight leg muscles, the likelihood that you may experience a tight lower back is also quite high.

To improve your athletic performance by offsetting the risk of developing a sports-related injury, incorporating a consistent practice of Yoga poses into your training routine will help to keep your muscles limber, strong and resilient to injury. A wonderful Yoga asana for keeping these areas limber is Downward Facing Dog Pose. This is one of the most fundamental Yoga poses practiced during any Yoga class. It is one of the primary connecting poses of the flowing Sun Salutation series of asanas, which warms up the entire body. 

The benefits of practicing Downward Facing Dog include stretching out the entire back of the legs, including the Achilles tendons and the hamstrings. This Yoga posture also strengthens and elongates the wrists, arms and shoulders and releases tension throughout the upper back and neck. Additionally, Downward Facing Dog is an inversion. As you hold the posture for several breaths, fresh blood and oxygen will circulate throughout your brain, which will help to dispel cognitive sluggishness.

* Downward Facing Dog Pose 

To practice Downward Facing Dog Pose, come to an Equal Standing Position at the front of your Yoga mat. Bring your hands into Namaste or Prayer Position at the front of your Heart. Bow your head briefly and solidify an intention for your Yoga practice. When you are ready, take a deep inhale and raise your hands overhead with your palms pressing against each other in Prayer Position. With an exhale, bring your hands down alongside your torso and place them next to your feet with your fingers pointing toward the front of your Yoga mat.

With your next inhale, look up slightly and with an exhale jump or step your feet approximately 4-5 feet behind you, so that your body makes the shape of an inverted V. Keep your palms flat on the mat and parallel to each other. Keep your drishti or gaze on your belly button or on a point just in front of the line of your hands. The stretch in your upper back and shoulders will increase if you roll your elbows in towards each other slightly. Take three to five full breaths as you hold the posture. 

If your Achilles tendons are particularly tight today, you may wish to pedal your feet until your muscles begin to warm up and release. If you tire during the practice of Downward Facing Dog, simply drop to your knees and rest in Child’s Pose on your Yoga mat until you are ready to continue. When you have completed holding the pose for three to five breaths, release the posture and return to an Equal Standing Position at the front of your mat. Pause briefly to feel the effects of the pose before continuing on with your Yoga practice.

© Copyright 2014 – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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