Downward Facing Dog / Adho Muhka Svanasana
Access a deeper understanding of and appreciation for your downward facing dog with these brief but helpful tips and insights! As being one of the most frequented postures in an asana class, adho muhka svanasana has the great potential to enliven and restore your body back into integrated balance and wholeness; however, when not practiced mindfully it also has the potential to cause chronic harm and inflict injuries onto your wrists, shoulders, neck, and back. Therefore taking the time to learn about how to more efficiently place your bones and how to more effectively engage your muscles in downdog is critical for a yogi’s health! Without there typically being enough time in public classes to really (and nerdly so) break all of this anatomy down - this virtual space is here to provide you with the information that you may be looking for in order to explore more safely and receive more deeply the full range of glorious benefits that downward facing dog has to offer your body and mind.
When establishing structural integrity within a posture it is vital to first and foremost address the foundation of the pose. In downward facing dog your foundation is in your hands- how they are meeting the ground beneath them. The structural integrity of your entire body depends upon how you are placing and engaging the bones and muscles of your fingertips, knuckles and wrists. While on all fours allow your fingers to spread apart, let every knuckle make contact with the mat, and position your wrist creases parallel to the front edge of your mat. And now the work begins- focus on maintaining all of this foundational integrity as you lift your hips back and up into downward facing dog. As this foundational integrity becomes easier to maintain with your hips lifted, shift your focus up to the heads of your shoulders and begin mindfully activating the muscles of your arms. Notice how when you spin the biceps of your inner arms towards the front your mat and the triceps of your outer arms in towards the midline, more space arrives in between the vertebrae of your neck, more length is established in your side body, and a deeper opening occurs in your shoulders.
Movin on up! Bring your attention to your ribcage. Notice how when you focus on sending your chest back to your thighs, your ribcage tends to flare open and therefore dump weight into your low back as well as strain the fronts of your shoulders. Combat this harm by knitting the front and lower part of your ribcage into your belly on every exhale. Feel this action bring length back into your spine and stability back into your shoulders!
If you find that extension of your spine (let alone hyper-extension!) is challenging to cultivate in down dog, and your spine often times feels fixated in flexion while your hamstrings feel strained…
Try bending your knees substantially and experimenting with blocks! Place the blocks underneath your hands or feet and notice how extension of your spine and legs is easier to access with the assistance of the props. For example:
There are a variety of other ways in which you can activate your body and experiment with your props in adho muhka svanasana! These are just a few offerings to get you interested and engaged in playing around with the posture more mindfully so that you may find and feel what works best for you. And once your bones and muscles feel organized enough to healthily maintain this posture for several breaths ~ go ahead and experiment with softening and clarifying your gaze back to your feet or turning your gaze inwards and closing your eyes. Then just let time pass and allow the rejuvenating benefits of this gentle inversion resonate and settle into your entire nervous system ~ happy and safe travels upside down ~
our bodies are expressions of where we’ve come from (what we’ve been through) and where we are striving to move towards; therefore, all bodies and expressions will look drastically different from one another regardless of how similarly we place our bones and engage our muscles. It is not so much about the aesthetics of the form as it is about the sensations of flow that we are attempting to cultivate within these postures. Therefore these images that proceed are not intended to create an ‘ideal’ of what your practice should or should not look like, instead these images are intentionally being used as a means to communicate abstract ideas about anatomy via a more relatable format so that you may be guided into your exploration of this posture verbally as well as visually.