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Five Pillars Yoga

Adho Mukha Svanasana

In Honor of the Dog Days of Summer, A Downward Facing Dog Refresher

There may not be a pose more associated with yoga in the West than downward facing dog. It’s the peak of Surya Namaskar A, the Salute to the Sun, and serves as a resting pose or home base for many vinyasa sequences.

Incredibly common, it’s also sneakily hard. Adho (downward) Mukha (face) Svan (dog) asana (pose) positions the head below the heart, making it an inversion. Like any inversion, this posture requires simultaneous rooting down and lifting up. In this case the peak of the posture is the tailbone, with the heels and the palms providing a deepening foundation into the ground.

 

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Apana vayu, the downward flow of prana through the body, is at play, drawing energy down the backs of the legs and out the heels; meanwhile prana vayu, upward flow, keeps the heart from collapsing and supports the low back by lifting the belly in and up, creating a platform for the tailbone to lift up and off of.

All of that energy play is good for the soul. Here’s how:

  • Downward dog calms the brain and energizes the body
  • Helps relieve stress and acts as a balm for mild depression
  • Stretches the shoulders, hamstrings and calves
  • Brings energy and awareness to the arches of the feet and the hands
  • Strengthens the arms and legs
  • Alleviates the symptoms of menopause and, when done with the head supported, can ease menstrual cramps
  • Improves digestion
  • Relieves headache, insomnia, back pain, and fatigue
  • Is beneficial for anyone with high blood pressure, asthma, flat feet, sciatica or sinusitis

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Before coming into it, try a couple plank poses to feel into the press of the palms and the balls of the feet. Roughly speaking, the length of your plank is the same as your down dog, meaning your hands and feet should stay in the same place as you move from one shape to another.

  • To get into Adho Mukha, start in table on your hands and knees. Stack your shoulders, elbows, and wrists; make sure your spine is long and your hips are over your knees.
  • Tuck your toes, hover your knees off the floor and slowly lift your sitting bones toward the ceiling.
  • Lengthen your tailbone away from your low back. If you had a tail, think of sending it straight up instead of tucking it between your legs.
  • On an exhale, push your thighs back and your heels down as you slowly straighten the knees. Bent knees are fine, too — whatever avoids congestion in the low back.
  • Firm the outer arms and press through the palms, especially the webbing between the index finger and the thumb.
  • Draw your forearms energetically inward, toward each other, and your upper arms out and away from each other.
  • Pick your shoulder blades up and draw them down toward your tailbone.
  • Draw your chest into your spine (no dumping in the ribs) and draw the ears in line with the upper arms.
  • Stay for as long as you like, breathing evenly and adjusting as you lift up and settle down.
  • Finish with a long child’s pose.
Photos: Top dog from lovelyyogi; partner picture found here