Posted on April 15 2018
Unless you practice Bikram, you probably think of Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) as part of the routine of your practice. You do it every class and often hold it at the end of the sequence. If you have been doing yoga for a while, you might feel like you have come to the end of your exploration of the pose. You ground your hands and feet, let your head hang between your arms and press your heels to the ground. But, that’s just the beginning of what Down Dog has to offer. Changing your physiological approach to the pose — what muscles you use and how — can open up new opportunities to play in your body and explore new goals for your practice.
Let’s say that you want to work on stretching your hamstrings. When you come into the pose, think of pulling your hips toward the back of your mat. Keep your back long. Gently extend through your legs, being careful not to “lock” your knees.
Maybe you want to use this pose to strengthen your shoulders in preparation for arm balances. If that’s the case, firm your shoulder blades and try to lift your hips away from the ground. Engage your core and focus on pushing your fingers into the floor. Check that your middle finger is pointing straight forward and work toward forming an L-shape with your index finger and thumb. Press the bony ridge of your palm into the meat and feel the strengthening all along your arms.
Regardless of which part of the body you want to work, the four-on-the-floor nature of Adho Mukha Svanasana makes it ideal for finding your alignment through your whole body. Think of a line of energy extending from your head to your feet, passing through your neck, spine, and the backs of your legs. Envision other lines connecting your hands to your shoulders and flowing into your back. It can help to tie a strap around your upper arms to make this easier to feel and to keep your elbows from splaying outwards.
Feel free to play with your Down Dog. Stretch yourself with a three-legged dog by keeping both hands on the floor and stretching the right leg skyward, returning to Down Dog, then stretching the left leg toward the ceiling. Experiment with a pointed or flexed foot as you lift your leg and notice the differences. Try this pose by lowering onto your forearms and keeping your palms flat on the floor. Or, turn to the wide sides of the mat. Move your legs about three feet apart and lower your torso and hands for a wide-legged Down Dog.
These are just a few of the variations in focus you can use to deepen your experience of this or any pose. And, let your journey evolve. Renowned yoga teacher Sadie Nardini says that she found a new level of awareness in Adho Mukha Svanasana after a decade of practice. That’s just how much a single pose can offer you.