Downward Dog, or Adho Mukha Svanasana as it is called in Sanskrit, is one of the most common yoga poses and often what comes to mind when people think about this practice. This pose is both a stretch and a strengthener for the entire body.
Downward Facing Dog can be a challenging position, but with practice and the following alignment steps, you may find that this becomes a favorite part of your yoga practice, or at the very least, you will find this position to come with more ease.
The most important thing to remember when discussing yoga alignment is that every single body is different so the alignment cues will also be slightly different.
When starting a yoga practice, it can be beneficial to move slower to listen to how your body responds to the movements you try. Your body will continually feed you information letting you know if you can go to a particular place or if you need to back off. While teachers are highly valuable, they can not feel what you feel in your body. Keep that in mind when trying the below tips. Try them on for yourself. Move around and notice how it feels. If you experience pain, that is a good sign that your body is somewhere it is not ready to be at that time.
Downward Facing Dog puts a lot of pressure on the joints. Having proper engagement is essential for keeping these joints safe.
Grounding the hands will protect your wrists as well as bring more strength into your posture which allows you to lengthen your spine even more.
Bring your hands shoulder distance apart.
Create a straight line from your shoulders, elbows, and middle finger.
Spread the fingers and press the palms, fingertips, and knuckles down into the ground.
Hold for a few breaths.
If it is hard to keep the hands engaged at first, come down into a tabletop when you notice the palms have lifted.
Take a few breaths and try again when you are ready.
A lot of students become obsessed with getting their heels on the ground in their Downward Facing Dog, but that is not the point.
In fact, keeping a bend in the knees and allowing the heels to remain slightly lifted can enable you to lengthen the spine more than if you were locking the knees and forcing the heels down.
Create a soft bend in the knees.
Play around with what it feels like to bend your knees to different degrees.
Observe how bent your knees are when you feel the most length through your spine.
There is a tendency for many of us to squeeze the shoulder blades together in downward dog, which creates tension in the shoulders, lingering pain in the neck, and headaches.
To prevent this, think about engaging the shoulders and creating space between the shoulder blades.
Draw the shoulder blades down your back (away from the ears) and broaden the upper back.
This engagement does take a lot of upper body strength so if you find it difficult at first, try holding it for a few breaths, rest for a few breaths, and then try again.