By Deborah Teasley RYT 500
In yoga teacher training we were asked to name our least favorite yoga pose. I immediately blurted out “Down Dog”. This resulted in laughter since I followed my statement with a vehement “I hate that pose”. While other people’s dogs were relaxed peaceful animals, my dog was a growling beast. Since I am one of the few people whose heels easily touch the mat when I’m in the pose, teachers always commented on my “nice dog”. Meanwhile, I was miserable enduring five breaths in down dog.
I decided to try to find a way to make this more pose more comfortable. I found that down dog is a very complicated pose to correctly align. If, like me, down dog is not comfortable for you, maybe these alignment points will help you make friends with your dog.
There are 9 places you need to check your alignment. They are: hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, head, ribs, thighs, knees and feet. This is a whole body pose!
Hands- Hands should only be shoulder width apart. Most people go wider than their shoulders. Fingers should be spread wide apart with the middle finger pointing to the front edge of the mat. Thumbs point toward each other. Fingers and thumbs push down into the mat. The base of the fingers and thumbs also push down enough to get a tiny lift in the center of your palm. This is important when we get to the wrists. Although you don’t actually move your hands, they should be pulling the mat toward you. This helps the shoulders align.
Wrists- The wrist creases should be parallel with the front of the mat. There should be less weight pushing down on the wrists than the hands. You should be able to feel all four corners of your hand pushing into the mat.
Arms- Here’s where it really gets tricky. The lower arms rotate inward and the upper arms rotate outward. Here’s how to make that happen. Without moving your hands make an inward movement like you are trying to twist off a tight jar lid. That rotates the lower arms in. Next, line up the elbow creases so they also are parallel to the front of the mat. This externally rotates the upper arms.
Shoulders- Pull the shoulders away from your ears and back toward one another. The pointed end of your shoulder blade comes down toward your ribs. This action broadens your upper back.
Head- In a perfect down dog the head comes right between the upper arms. That might not be where your head comfortably goes. Keep it in line with your neck. Your head should not be hanging with your chin tucked in or tilted upward. (Disclaimer: Yes, I know in ashtanga practice you are supposed to look at your navel. However, if you have to curl your head in and under to do that try keeping your head and neck aligned and see if it feels better. )
Ribs- Pull the lower front ribs in toward your spine. It is common to let them drop downward. As you pull them toward your spine, you may feel your back elongate and straighten. You will probably also feel your abdominal muscles engage.
Thighs- Press the tops of your thighs back by trying to wrap your inner thigh backward. You may feel your sit bones pull away from each other. This action helps raise the hips and straighten your legs
Knees- Bend your knees enough to evenly distribute your weight between your shoulders and feet. If your leg muscles are tight, straight legs shift your weight forward toward your arms and shoulders. Neither your shoulders nor legs should hold the majority of your body weight.
Feet- The feet should be positioned about the width of your fist placed between your feet. This is closer together than usual for many of us. The distance between your hands and feet should be such that you can move from down dog into plank and back without moving your hands and feet. Now, you can try pushing your heels toward the mat. If they don’t reach, don’t worry about it.
I hope you find at least one of these alignments will be helpful for your down dog.