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Five-Minute Yoga Challenge: step forward from downward dog

PTOW 36.1

When your foot falls short, don't try to wiggle it forward.

In the world of yoga, I think of myself as a civilian.

When I started taking classes, I was not a dancer, a gymnast, a figure skater, a personal trainer or an aerobics instructor.

As a child I tried cartwheels, but I never stood on my hands. I had no speed and not much strength. My sole physical gift in asana practice was long hamstrings.
So when it came to learning moves such as stepping forward from Adho Mukha Svanasana (dog pose) into lunge, I had issues.
When I brought my right foot forward, it worked.
When I brought my left foot forward, it landed a foot or so back from my hands.
The reason?

Grasp your ankle and lift your foot into place, then come to lunge.

Instead, grasp your ankle and lift your foot into place.

Stepping forward easily depends on hip flexibility. My left hip is tighter than my right hip, so it’s more difficult to swing my leg into place.
I’d be embarrassed to say how long this continued. Over time it became incrementally better, but my left foot still didn’t land where I wanted it to.
Then, at a workshop with Orit Sen Gupta, I learned the secret:  move your body weight forward, toward your wrists.
Unless your weight has shifted forward, the loosest hips in the universe will not bring your foot into place. Once it is forward, the difficulty vanishes.
That is, of course, unless your hips are very tight.
In that case, try this elegant fix I learned from Claudia MacDonald.
From Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward-facing dog pose), come onto your toes. 
Bend your right knee. Shift your weight towards your hands. 
On an exhalation, swing your foot forward.
Ideally, it will land between your hands.
If your foot falls short, here’s what to do:
Drop your left knee to the floor. Keep your left hand in place. Grasp your right ankle with your right hand and lift it forward, until it’s aligned with your left hand. 
Place your right hand back on the floor. Straighten your left knee. 
Check that your right thigh and calf create a right angle at your knee.
Stay in lunge for a moment, then swing your right leg back to downward dog and repeat on the left side.
With practice you will be able to lift your foot smoothly and elegantly into place.
And, as time goes by, you’ll be able to dispense with the interim step completely, and just swing your foot forward.
Benefits: Being able to step forward gives you an easy way to move from downward dog to standing. 
It lets you do cycles of lunges and standing poses from downward dog. 
It also helps to loosen tight hips and bring lightness into your movements.
Sequence: As a Five-Minute Yoga Challenge, try this whenever you want to wake yourself up. To warm up, first stand in Tadasana, hinge into a forward bend, and step your left foot back to lunge. Step forward, and repeat on the right side. 
Then try stepping forward from dog pose.
As part of a longer practice, place this sequence close to the beginning to open your hips and raise your energy.
Or, if your day’s practice is all about hips, do a few rounds of stepping forward and back, then spend 15 minutes with hip opening poses. Try stepping forward from dog pose again, and see if anything has changed.
Ouch: Mostly it’s the ego that bruises, especially if one leg lands flawlessly and the other hangs back. Focus on bringing your weight to your hands and remaining light-hearted and non-judgmental.
Sanskrit Corner: Say: AH-doh MOO-kah shvah-NAH-sanna. Adho means downward. Mukha means face. Svana means dog.

If you liked this, you might also be interested in:

Sit Like a Pretzel to Stretch Your Hips,

Use a Strap to Deepen Your Stretch in Malasana,

Crank Your Thighs in Bound Angle Pose to Protect Your Knees

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jenny Jackson November 13, 2013, 5:23 am

    This was really helpful, especially as my teacher told me to use my other hand to pull in through.
    I just gave it a go and suddenly I can bring my leg through well without hobbling around and embarrassing myself in class

    Top tip

    • Eve November 17, 2013, 5:38 pm

      I’m glad it works for you Jenny.

  • Chris Flack November 10, 2013, 11:43 pm

    Thanks for the tip Eve – This is always a tough one for new students and your tip works :)

    • Eve November 11, 2013, 3:02 pm

      Chris, I’m glad it’s working for you, and thanks for letting me know.

  • Alison January 11, 2012, 12:25 pm

    I’m starting to practice yoga at home with a DVD, and I didn’t understand why I couldn’t get my foot far enough forward after downward dog! Great topic to cover, thank you!

    • Eve January 13, 2012, 7:13 pm

      Hey Alison,
      I’m glad it was helpful. Took me years to learn that little trick, so I’m delighted to pass it on.