by Steph Creaturo
1. It’s hard. Down dog is a complicated pose! There are many muscles involved that support and oppose each other, it can be difficult to know where to focus your energies first. And, given that every sensation in your body may awaken the first time you’re in the pose, resist the urge to tackle every instruction and alignment point at once.
Pick one thing on which to focus your effort and concentration, and trust that your body will support the rest of the pose with mindful – but not super forced – effort. Honor where your body is today with good humor and grace and work from there.
2. Stick with the foundation of the pose. A great place to start in down dog is with the foundation of the pose – your hands and your feet. Your hands turn into another set of feet in downward dog, while your feet are still your feet!
The instructions for your hands and your feet are similar in the pose:
Press your index finger and big toe mounds and your pinky finger and toe mounds evenly into the ground. I like to imagine I’m typing on an old Smith-Corona typewriter with my finger and toe mounds and I have to unstick a key with a little “oomph”. This strong press through these mounds of the hands and feet create support for your arms and legs to better connect to your shoulders and hips.
Press back through the inner and outer heel, while you ground down through the thumb mounds and the outer heel of the hand. The heels track back in space, not necessarily down (that’s where muscles on the back of your leg get involved – that’s another post!) – imagine a yoga teacher has his or her hands right under the crook of your ankle and is gently guiding your heels back in space.
Now that you’ve got the heels aligned, work the corresponding part of the hands, pressing those a bit down, but also gently guiding weight forward, like the edges of your hands are going to ski forward in space, but have anchors tracking them backwards.
I love detailed instructions like this because there’s no way I can think about anything else if I’m really concentrating on these instructions! The alignment points of a pose are just another way we learn to corral the pinball nature of the mind.
3. Down dog isn’t for everybody. There are alternatives. Given how much we work on computers and phones and tablets, our wrists and fingers can be tight, bound, or structurally compromised. We have shoulder stuff, neck stuff, and sometimes, it just doesn’t feel good.
We can still get the benefits of the pose while working safe and smart. Wall dog is a great alternative, as is forearm dog, puppy pose, wide-legged forward bend with extended arms – the possibilities are endless.
Check out our always-on-the-calendar No Dog Yoga class to learn these customizations, talk with your yoga teacher, and be honest with yourself about how down dog feels. Pain and sensation are two totally different beasts – ultimately, yoga is a healing practice that appears to us in many ways, shapes, and forms.
Do you have more questions or thoughts about downward facing dog? Let me know in the comments!