Foundational Pose #1: Downward facing dog
Whether you are new to yoga or a master yogi, you have to start somewhere! Let’s begin with one of the foundational poses of yoga.
Downward facing dog (down dog) can be intimidating for many reasons (for one thing, your hips are shamelessly high and pointing to the sky), BUT part of yoga is learning to let go of judgment and competition so that you can strengthen your mind and body.
As always, the remainder of this post is for informational purposes only, and you should consult a physician before starting any exercise program. No pose should ever hurt – if it does, stop! If it doesn’t feel right for any reason – stop!
Enough already… How?
The first question to ask of any pose is “how do I get in the pose?” You can get into down dog in a few different ways, but they all have the same basics.
Start on ‘all fours’ with your knees on the ground directly under your hips and your hands directly under your shoulders (arms straight but with a micro bend in the elbows – never hyper-extend your joints). Spread your fingers wide with weight spread equally into each palm. Incidentally, this pose is called Neutral Horse, but that’s for another post.
From here, plant your toes into the ground and lift your hips toward the sky (remember… shamelessly) while pressing your heels toward the ground and letting your head fall naturally between your arms. You should be looking between your knees/shins toward the back of the room (or whatever is behind you). Draw your bellybutton toward your spine. At this point, you should look like an inverted ‘V’ with no stress in your neck. Especially if this is your first down dog of the day, it’s alright to bend your knees to your comfort level or to “walk your dog” (slowly alternate between straightening and bending each leg one at a time). If you can’t completely straighten your leg or get your heel completely on the ground, that’s ok! Just keep practicing.
There are a variety of ways to exit the pose, but the best thing for beginners is to just (slowly) reverse everything and come back to Neutral Horse until you feel you are stable enough to stand up (or try it again as many times as you like).
Practically speaking, it would be hard to do yoga without down dog because it’s used to smoothly transition between a variety of poses.
Physically, it strengthens your upper body while acting as a great stretch for the hamstrings, calf muscles and Achilles’ tendons.
Mentally, because your head is below your heart, it promotes blood circulation throughout the body and provides a rush of blood to the brain. All of this is quite refreshing once you are used to the sensation.
These reasons are enough to motivate me!
The most important thing to remember is this is your workout at your pace and comfort level. While you certainly don’t have to be comfortable with every pose to practice yoga, down dog is an important one to master because you are likely to be doing it alot. Practice it until you feel comfortable doing it, and then move on to the next one (coming soon).
Did I do down dog before writing this?
You bet I did.