What is the Downward Facing Dog?
The downward facing dog is one of your basic yoga poses. It is often used as an anchoring pose in many yoga sequences and practices, but it can also be used on it’s own to improve any kind of workout, exercise regime or for body rejuvenation and relaxation.
When you first start out on your personal yoga journey of self-discovery, you will most likely find it difficult to understand why the downward facing dog is considered to be one of the ‘resting poses’. Firstly, it looks like hard work. Secondly, it feels like hard work!
However, the downward facing dog is designed to encourage you to distribute your weight evenly and symmetrically, to lengthen your body and to strengthen your muscles. The more you practice it, the more your body will become attuned to the pose’s benefits, and relax into it rather than struggle against it.
The Benefits of the Downward Facing Dog Yoga Pose
When you learn how to practice the downward facing dog correctly and understand how to assume the position so that it begins to feel good and work for you, you will begin to reap the rewards. Here are just some of the rewards you can experience from perfecting your downward facing dog…
- It boosts blood circulation. Did you know that any body positioning or pose where the heart is positioned above the head is good for the circulation of blood around the body? It helps us to flush out toxins which keeps the immune system in good working order, and it also helps to regulate blood pressure.
- It is good for stiffness and back pain. Due to the alignment of your body and the even distribution of your weight in this pose, it can help to eliminate problems that relate to back pain, because you are lengthening the spine, which relieves it of the built up pressure that occurs throughout the day. Downward facing dog is great for anyone who suffers from stiffness or pain in the shoulders too.
- It wakes you up. Have you ever seen a dog stretch out its body after waking, by sticking its backside high up in the air and elongating its spine? It is a feel-good pose because it lengthens your body out of the sleeping position and prepares it for movement by engaging the muscles in a relaxed and natural way; boosting your body with energy and making you feel refreshed and ready for action.
What does the Downward Facing Dog Look Like?
The downward facing dog looks like an upside-down ‘V’ shape. Your hands and feet should be firmly grounded into the mat, and your hips/sitting bones point up to the ceiling so that your back and legs are straight and symmetrical.
If you are just starting out it is not uncommon to find that you can’t fully straighten out your legs in this pose so that your heels are fully grounded into the mat; not everybody has naturally flexible hamstrings, and this is something that will improve over time.
Focus on getting all of the most important elements accurate and feeling good first. It is more important to have a straight and stretched out spine than it s to have straight legs in this pose.
How to do it right!
In order to feel great in this pose and start enjoying all of the benefits it can bring, you must first understand how to assume the pose the way it is intended. There are many extremely detailed and to be honest, rather technical instructions online about how you should engage and rotate different muscles to get this pose right, but at this stage too much information will only confuse you.
Follow these simple steps to get your body into the right position for the downward facing dog, and concentrate on how it feels for you. Yoga should be more about developing a personal relationship with your own body.
- Kneel down on your mat on all fours so that your hands, knees and feet are aligned perfectly with your hips. Alignment is important for stability and grounding.
- Make sure that your hands are planted firmly into the mat with your fingers spread out and the four corners of your palms are pressing down nice and evenly, connecting with the surface beneath.
- Now, with your elbows slightly bent, lift your hips so that your sitting bones raise and point up into the air, and rotate your elbows inwards towards your body as you straighten your arms, keeping the muscles engaged but not locking your elbows. This will prevent your shoulders from scrunching into your neck. Instead your back should be flat and you shoulders relaxed with your shoulder blades spread flat. If you engage the muscles in your arms to help take the weight and then push this weight backwards so that your legs take their share too, then you are less likely to find your shoulders scrunching up or tensing.
- Adjust your weight by pulling your hips back so that your weight falls back evenly, and press your heels as far as you can towards the mat. Don’t worry if you can’t straighten your legs fully or put your heels completely on the mat. The most important thing to focus on is actively engaging the muscles on your legs, shifting the weight backwards away from your arms, and lengthening your spine so that it is straight, by pushing the palms of your hands evenly into the mat, raising your hips up and back, and stretching your hamstrings so that your heels feel as grounded as your palms, even if they are not flat on the mat.
- Don’t let your head drop completely. Instead align your neck with your spine and look through at your feet, making sure that they are still hip-width apart, just like your hands.
You can hold this position for as long as you feel you need to, or use it to transition into another pose. Either way, your focus should be on observing how the different parts of your body feel. This is a great observational pose, you can use it to feel which areas of your body have tension and need work.
Share Your Downward Facing Dog Experience
Are you new to yoga? Is this your first time trying the downward facing dog at home? How do you feel when you are in this position? What do you find most difficult? Or if you are more experienced, what do you find most enjoyable about the downward facing dog? What downward facing dog tips can you share with other YouQueen Readers who are discovering yoga for the first time?