Downward Facing Dog, or Adho Mukha Svasana, is probably the most commonly known posture in the yoga asana practice. We usually see it many times in the midst of a flow, or use it as a resting posture to come back, center, and find our breath.
So much is happening in this posture and the benefits include, but are not limited too –
- Strengthening shoulders, hip flexors, and abdominals
- Stretching the entire posterior chain
- Increasing blood flow and energy by taking the head below the heart
Including this posture in a flow, or even just a stretching routine, is absolutely essential… but so is doing it correctly to receive these benefits, and to stay injury free.
Here’s what’s happening in this posture, as well as a few modifications along the way –
Feet: In dorsiflexion, meaning the toes are pointing up towards the shin bones to draw the heels down towards the mat.
Knees: Ideally, the knees are neutrally extended. However, this may not be the case if the hamstrings are really tight. Bending the knees and drawing belly towards the thighs is a great option to protect the lower back until the flexibility becomes available.
Hips: In flexion, lengthening the hamstrings and larger gluteus muscles.
Spine: In a nice long, neutral extension. The biggest misalignment we see in this posture is an over curvature in the lumbar spine (lower back). If the hamstrings are tight, they will pull on the pelvis and create this curvature. This causes excess strain on the hamstrings, as well as excess pressure on the discs in your lumbar spine. If this is happening, that bent knee modification previously mentioned is essential!
Shoulders: In flexion, with arms alongside the ears. If shoulder flexion flexibility is low, the bent knee’s modification should allow you to shift your weight back enough to align your arms and ears.
Elbows/Wrists/Fingers: Elbows should be neutrally extended, wrists are hyper extending, and fingers should be gripping the mat. Weight should NOT be in the ball of the hand! This leads to wrist issues! Shift that weight to your fingers and grip your mat so hard that your teacher should not be able to lift your fingers if they tried!
Neck: Your neck should be very neutral! Not flexed (looking behind you, between your legs) or hyper extended (looking up at your teacher.)
Fit this posture in to your practice, your stretching routine, or whenever you feel you need an energy boost during the day!