Adho Mukha Svanasana, or Downward Facing Dog, is my absolute favorite yoga posture. My build is one of sturdiness and tightness, so this shape airs out and lengthens everything that needs it. It took me quite a while to understand what an "actual" downward dog should feel like, and it was a total gamechanger once I learned. I crave this pose. So, here are my tips to renovate your Downward Facing Dog asana from "ugh this hurts and my hands won't stop slipping" to "Ahhhhhhhhhhhh."
This is one variation that I commonly see. We often get hung up on trying to press our heels to the mat and stretch our hamstrings, but this comes at the expense of our spines. This asana, as is the case for the majority of all asanas, is meant to tend to your spine first, your hamstrings second. Note the differences between this photo and the next.
Here is an optimally aligned version:
Note the angles of my arms. In the photo to the left, I am actively wrapping my triceps toward my legs, my inner elbows toward my hands. This causes the space between my thumb and index finger to rise, so I conversely press down in this area of the hands the most. In the photo to the right, I am collapsing in my shoulders without activating upper arm strength, which can fatigue my arms quickly and build tension in my neck.
Spread your fingers!!!!! I cannot cue this important key enough in my classes. The more you spread 'em, the more engaged your energetic grip of stability (no more slipping). Press into the finger pads and suction up a bit of space between your mat and your center palms. Imagine there's a beautiful little bug (or, if no bug is beautiful in your book, then a delicious mini cupcake) underneath your palm that you mustn't squish. This will relieve pressure that can build up in your wrists. It's all about the fingers!
Alternatives + Modifications:
Top Right: If your hamstrings are feeling tight, bend your knees. Remember that this pose is first and foremost a lengthening release for your spine. Hamstring stretching comes second. This is also a great way to ease into the full pose.
Top Left: Half dog! You can use a wall to bring the same release and stretch to your back body without fully committing to being upside down. Note: I still actively engage my arms and slightly puff up my upper back so that my spine does not sag like a hammock.
Bottom Right: If your wrists are bothering you, or if you're in need of an even deeper shoulder stretch, come into Dolphin Pose, or Downward Dog on your forearms. If you need this variation for your wrists, but your shoulders are tight, then bring your hands together in prayer instead of making your forearms parallel, as pictured.
Bottom Left: To take pressure out of your wrists and upper body, you can place a block below each hand. This causes more of an abdominal engagement, as well.
- Stretches: hamstrings, calves, ankles, abs, lats, hand and feet arches
- Strengthens: bones, quads, shoulder girdle, back muscles, ankles and feet, wrists and hands
- Encourages blood flow, digestion, and an energized yet calm mood
- Therapeutic relief for: headaches, insomnia, PMS, asthma, sciatica, fatigue, and back pain