FIX YOUR DOWNWARD-FACING DOG
Downward-facing dog, downward dog, or sometimes known as simply down dog, is one of the most recognized poses in the yoga practice.
Downward dog is characterized as an inversion because the head is below the heart. In this position, gravity enhances circulation towards the head. It is debatable whether or not inversions actually increase blood flow to brain, delivering increased amounts of oxygen and nutrients. However, the “head rush” felt from being inverted for several minutes can raise energy levels, improve mood, and reset mental clarity.
When performed correctly, downward dog stretches the latissimus dorsi, hamstrings, calves, ankles, and bottom of the feet. It promotes thoracic extension (straightening of the middle spine), which is the opposite of how many people spend most of their day sitting in an office or at home in front of a computer. This pose can also help build strength in the small muscles of the hands, wrists, shoulders, and deep core muscles.
As with any yoga pose, the idea is to strive towards improvement but understand that yoga is a dynamic practice. There is no end goal, and there is no perfection. The benefits lie in the process and transformation. Below are some tips on how to improve your downward-facing dog in order to receive all the benefits the pose has to offer.
1. Grip the floor with all 10 fingers
Wrist pain is a common complaint with upper extremity weight bearing postures or exercises such as down dog, planks, and push-ups. I often see people who complain of wrist pain perform the aforementioned exercises with limp, inactive fingers and all of their weight dumping in to their wrist joint. Spreading the fingers and gripping the floor allows the weight to be distributed over a larger surface area and is much less painful on the wrists.
2. Tilt your pelvis forward
This movement is also known as an anterior pelvic tilt. Down dog can offer a fabulous hamstring stretch. However, in order to get the most effective hamstring stretch, the pelvis needs to be anteriorly tilted. The hamstring attaches to the bottom of your pelvis on the ischial tuberosity. If your butt is tucked under, or posteriorly tilted, the upper portion of the hamstring is put on slack. If the pelvis is tilted forward, or anteriorly tilted, the upper portion is on stretch. Maintaining this anterior pelvic tilt as you straighten your knees will create a stretch across the entire muscle.
3. Press your chest through your shoulders towards your thighs
Modern lifestyles promote a rounded or flexed upper back contributing to postural pain and movement dysfunction. Pressing your chest through your shoulders towards your thighs helps the thoracic spine be in a more neutral position and reverse the prolonged flexed spinal position.
4. Be patient
Yoga is a practice. Stay humble and try not to get caught up in performing a perfect pose. The benefits lie in the process of how you get there. Start with the proper foundation and stick to the integrity of the pose. Your muscles will respond over time, and you will begin to feel and see the changes.
Check out the video below for a full tutorial on how to properly perform downward-facing dog.
Written by Hannah Sweitzer, DPT, OCS, CSCS