When we first encounter it, most of us find downward dog somewhat daunting, with its simultaneous demands for strength and flexibility in arms and shoulders, hips and hamstrings.
Over time, it gets significantly easier. Once you’re past the raw beginner stage,
one of the best ways to bring even more ease into your dog pose is, paradoxically, to make it harder.
Try this variation, and when you return to Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward dog pose), you may feel a new sense of ease.
Come into dog pose, heels resting on the wall, toes on the mat.
Press back into your dog pose. arms straight.
Stretch long through your side body.
Now bend your right knee and take your right foot up the wall.
Take the leg as high as you can. Tuck your toes under.
Straighten your right leg by firming your front thigh muscles and drawing both front thigh muscles toward your hip creases.
The tendency will be for your right hip to lift towards the ceiling.
To bring your pelvis into balance, remember to roll your upper inner right thigh in, your outer right thigh down towards the floor.
If you’re not sure if your hips are level, try bending the right knee for a moment. Firm your left front thigh, and notice the position of your pelvis.
Keep your awareness on your pelvis as you slowly straighten your right leg. When you feel it tipping, roll your upper inner right thigh in, your outer right thigh down towards the floor.
Now press your hands deeper into the mat.
Straighten your arms and press your body back from your hands to your hips making one straight line.
Stay for several slow, relaxed breaths, then change sides.
If you can work with straight legs in your normal dog pose stride and would like more of a challenge, then walk your hands in about four inches – the length of one of your palms.
Do the pose in the new position on both sides. Continue to move your hands in gradually until you find your edge.
Benefits: This intense hamstring stretch also stretches your shoulders and builds strength in your hands and arms. Think of it as a preparation for standing splits (Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana), or as a step along the road to full arm balance. It’s an even more invigorating pose than downward facing dog.
Sequence: If your time is short, spend most of it warming up in downward facing dog. In a longer practice, begin with leg and shoulder stretches (Supta Padangusthasana and Gomukhasana, for example), and standing poses. Once you’ve worked with your legs up the wall, take your luxuriously long hamstrings into seated forward bends.
Ouch: If your wrists complain in downward facing dog, avoid this pose until you’ve solved that problem. If your hamstrings are tight, stay with your regular dog pose stride, and work on getting both of your legs straight.
Sanskrit Corner: Say AH-doh MOO-kah shvah-NAH-sanna. Adho means downward. Mukha means a face, and svana means dog.
It seems that no matter how long we’ve been yoga students, there’s always something new to learn about downward facing dog. What’s your favorite way to work with the pose? Is there a cool yoga trick you’ve found that brings the pose to life for you? I’d love to hear about it.