Downward Facing Dog
Many of you may already be familiar with this fundamental posture. And if you're new to downward facing dog, you've come to the right place. Being the foundational pose it is, it's so important that you know how to approach it properly. So we're going back to basics today.
So what makes downward facing dog so great? For starters, it lengthens the spine, opens the back of your legs, and strengthens your arms and chest. And since it's an inversion (your head lowers below your heart), it improves circulation as your blood flow reverses.
It's important to get familiar with downward facing dog because it's also a transitional pose. From here, you can move into one-legged downward facing dog, plank or wild thing. Bottom line: if you're trying to expand your practice, you're going to run into this pose a lot. So let's get started.
Begin on your hands and knees, with your hands shoulder width apart. Press your hands firmly into the floor, tuck your toes and lift your knees, pressing the floor away from you as your lift your pelvis. Your downward facing dog should look like an upside down 'V'.
It's key to spread your weight evenly in your hands — using not only your palms, but also your fingertips and knuckle pads — so you don't put too much pressure on your wrists. If you have any wrist injuries, you can come down onto your forearms for dolphin pose. Focus on pressing down your thumbs, index and pinky fingers to firm the arm muscles.
With your feet hip distance apart, activate your core, drawing your belly to your spine. Your shoulders should be broad and away from your ears, and your neck should be in line with your spine. If your hamstrings are tight, bend your knees to give your back and legs a break. This will also improve your alignment.
But part of knowing how to get into downward facing dog is knowing what not to do. Some common mistakes include dipping your body a little too far inward, creating a concave arch in your back. Be careful, as this can put too much strain on the tendons and ligaments of the arms. Lindsay demonstrates below.
Meanwhile, you can see below Lindsay isn't pressing her hips back far enough, and her head is lifted. You want to create a straight line from your hips down to the top of your head, with your neck relaxed. Remember the 'V' shape. Your body shouldn't make any other shape than a triangle.
One option to deepen your pose is to flow from downward facing dog to plank. This is Lindsay's personal preference, but it may not be for everyone. For Lindsay, it works because it's a reminder to activate the core, arms and back, and it helps her lift her hips up and back. You want to feel light, as if you're floating upward, rather than sinking down.
Remember, it's all about practice. And don't focus so much on trying to get your heels on the ground. You may or may not eventually get there — it just depends on the bone structure in your feet and ankles. So if your heels don't touch the floor, that's OK. Instead, focus on your form and alignment to ensure you're getting all the benefits downward facing dog has to offer. And as always, keep breathing.