One of the most difficult things to understand when you first begin practicing yoga is the proper alignment in Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). It is such a critical pose to understand in order to find ease in your flow practice. There are a lot of cues that you might hear in class from your instructor. Here are some important ones…
Starting with your base: Hands & Feet
1. Fingers spread wide, pointer finger forward. Make sure to root down through the pointer finger and thumb knuckles especially.
2. Feet are hips distance apart, sometimes a wider stance can grant more space in the low back if that area is tight. Heels draw in toward the mat.
Moving on up: Gaze, Spine, Ribs, Tailbone, Legs
3. Gaze shifts forward to the top of the mat (neck is long)
4. Internally rotate the “eye of the elbow” forward. If you are hyper-mobile in the arms, you will want to make sure you do not hyperextend here. This rotation will help lengthen through the shoulder blades and draw the shoulder heads into socket away from the ears.
5. Chest reaches for the thighs, but keep the low ribs drawing in toward the spine.
6. Slight tilt of the tailbone up to sky (to help lengthen hamstrings)
7. Legs are engaged, gently drawing the kneecaps into the base of the thighs. Engaged, not locked.
1. Hand Position…
It is so crucial to have your hand in the right position. One of the main complaints I hear is of wrist pain in yoga. It’s usually because the student is unaware of their hand position in poses like down dog, plank, etc. Your hands are a very important part of your foundation in these poses. Picture three shows all fingers spread with the finger pads and knuckles rooting into the mat. This will protect the carpel tunnel region from getting all of the weight and will help you evenly distribute it throughout the hand.
This misalignment is usually caused by tightness in the shoulders and hamstrings. When these areas are tight, it is easy to try and compensate in the pose by altering the integrity of the spine to feel more supported. Unfortunately this rounded spine will do nothing for your growth in flexibility and feeling the expansion of the pose. A way that you can better modify the pose is by bending the knees and drawing the chest in toward the thighs. This will help you shift your weight away from the wrists.
This usually happens in students who are very flexible. I used to do this myself! I have really open joints in my shoulders and knees so I used to lock out my legs and dump into my shoulders (as you see in picture one). Students will think the goal of down dog is to get the head down to the mat because they see these hyper mobile students like this. It is a really bad position for your joints (especially the shoulders) and it does nothing to help activate needed muscles to transition into the next pose from down dog.
A quick note on flexibility…
When you are really flexible, your goal should be to find places where you can balance out with strength. And vice versa…when you are tight, your goal should be to locate areas where you feel the sensation of flexibility happening. When you find that place of balance, you are able to transform physically and mentally. You will feel more in touch with your true self and will find areas to explore and grow in!