Do your hammies say “nope” and your heels say “nyet” in downward facing dog? Fuggetaboutit! Here’s an easy, six-step downdog “tuning” technique for newbies, the short hamstrung and … the rest of us!
Words and photos by Lynette Chiang
Ardho Mukha Svanasana (ardho = downward, muhka = face, svana = dog, Asana = pose) or Downward Facing Dog is probably the most recognizable yoga pose next to the Lotus position. Depending on the strength, flexibility and rotation in your wrists, shoulder blades, hips, hamstrings, backs of ankles and even toes, it can (and does) take a variety of shapes on the mat. So how do you know you’re doing it “right?”
While there are no hard and fast rules in yoga other than avoiding actions likely to cause injury, most teachers generally agree that for an effective downdog, it’s more important to strive for a long, straight spine, than straight legs and heels on the ground. Grounded heels and straight legs may come in time as flexibility increases – or not. So, if the instructions “tilt your hips up to the sky” and “ground your heels” somehow don’t compute, try this step-by-step sequence which will at least get your spine to obey …
Some observations: note the raised fingers in Step 5. Always take the opportunity to use your mat, and your own body, to push against or create resistance to deepen a pose. I believe that your body is like a piece of gym equipment – it has bars to work with to create resistence (your limbs) and your own body weight makes a great stack of weights.
Keep fingers spread and index fingers dead ahead. Practice rotating inner elbow creases outward, so the left crease points to the upper right corner of the mat, and the right points to the upper left corner. This post from Body Positive Yoga explains it very nicely and shows how to take a little weight off the wrists using a folded towel – you can also fold the end of the mat over a few times and rest the balls of the hands on it.
Also in Step 5, take the opportunity to shimmy the hips side to side and really open up the lower back area. You might like to separate the feet a little more. I like to do this in Child’s Pose (wide kneed) and other poses. I’m always shape shifting.
You can roll all these steps into one smooth move, literally melting back into the downdog. Delicious!
The above shows a fairly standard, if slightly shorter dog. When you’ve mastered getting heels on the floor in the slightly shorter position, start the challenge all over by moving your feet back a little. Then in time, aim to have your forehead touch the floor, as demonstrated by Yoshio in our blog post, Awareness of the Pose:
VARIATION: Here’s an even easier way to move towards this “deeper dog.” Start in Child’s Pose, and simply lift hips making sure that your head is the last thing to leave the mat. It WILL leave the mat then one day, you might find yourself mimicking Yoshio, above.
Do you have any special thoughts about getting in and out of Downdog? Share them in the comments below.