Downward Facing Dog (or “Adho Mukha Svanasana”) is one of the most common asanas in yoga. For beginning yoga students, Downward Dog can be challenging initially, but over time, as one's practice advances, it often turns into a favorite 'relaxation' pose between other, more strenous postures.
And for good reason. Downward Facing Dog pose offers a variety of benefits for the body, in fact, its benefits comprises multiple physiological systems.
Benefits of Adho Mukha Svanasana
Downward Facing Dog pose increases circulation of both blood and lymph systems, nourishing and revitalizing cells throughout the whole body while clearing out old waste products. The pose also expands the chest and strengthens the lungs for better respiratory function. Anyone who has experienced sciatic pain will notice how the poses elongates all the muscles that run along the backs of the legs, releasing the tightness that often leads to pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Yoga students looking to build strength will develop tone throughout the length of their body though this pose: Downward Facing Dog gently builds muscles in the shoulders, arms, and abdominal region, as well as along the back and down the thighs and calves. In addition, the pose stretches and decongests the spinal column, a vital function which promotes the free flow of energy and nerve information between the body and brain. In some cases, Downward Facing Dog can provide relief from headaches.
- Start in table pose, with your knees under your hips and palms aligned with your shoulders. From here, move your hands about one palm length forward, so they are forward of your shoulders. This will ensure correct alignment of hands in relation to feet as you press up into the pose.
- Curl your toes under and press into the pads at the base of your fingers. On an exhale, press down through the hands and lift up your hips to come into the pose.
- Initially, keep the knees bent to find a neutral spine. The goal in Downward dog is to keep lengthening the spine. Find the length of your spine pressing back from your hands, lengthening from the shoulders and armpits.
- Once you've found the length of your spine, slowly begin to straighten the legs, bringing the upper part of the thighs towards the back of the room. If your heels don't touch the floor, don't worry, just focus on straightening the legs. Be careful not to lose the length of your back as you gradually straighten the legs.
- Breathe deeply. Press your belly and chest towards your thighs and press out through your sitz bones and crown. Isometrically draw your hands and feet towards eachother while keeping your palms and the pads of your feet firmly on the ground. Engage the muscles along the front of your body and lengthen the back body.
- Press the hands into the ground. Pull the shoulder blades apart and down. Gently reach your chest towards the floor to feel the stretch in your armpits. At the same time, broaden the kidney area.
- To release: Exhale. Bend the knees and return to table pose. Relax.
Common Misalignment Issues in Adho Mukha Svanasana
Downward dog seems like a simple enough pose, but there are a surprising number of ways to do it wrong. One of the most common mistakes is to keep too much weight on the hands, as in the picture to the right. Instead, make sure to have your weight evenly on your hands and feet, in fact, there is a sense of continuing pressing backwards, lengthening through the arms and moving the upper parts of the thighs towards the back of the room.
Those with stiff or weak back muscles, tight hamstrings, sciatica or knee problems will want to practice Downward Facing Dog gently, easing in and out of the pose while keeping the knees bent and back straight. Those with Carpal Tunnel Syndom will want to press down into the base of their fingers.
Anyone with sensitive writs or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome may wish to try holding onto a rolled towel beneath their palms in this pose. Alternatively, come into Dolphin pose, placing the elbows and forearms on the ground instead of the palms, to avoid putting pressure on the wrists and hands.
People suffering from uncontrolled high blood pressure, weak eye capillaries, detached retina, or any other infection or inflammation of the eyes and ears should avoid practicing Downward Facing Dog. Also, those with recent or chronic inflammation/injury to the arms, wrists, shoulders, back, hips, knees, legs, or ankles will want to wait until returning to health before practicing the pose.
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