Downward Dog (sometimes Downward Facing Dog or simply Down Dog – which I especially like as it makes me imagine puppies) is a popular pose which brings mixed reactions.
You can start by being in what’s sometimes called Table Top position (the neutral spine part of Cat / Cow), having your knees in line with your hips and hands below the shoulders or maybe slightly in front if this is more comfortable.
Aim to have your index finger pointing forward and curl the toes under before lifting the knees and drawing your heels towards the mat. If there’s a big gap (all our bodies are different), you might want to have a folded blanket under your heels to offer you that extra sense of grounding and support. Look back towards your knees and aim (I know this sounds odd in an inversion) to drop (so actually, they’re going up a little) your shoulder blades.
Aim to take 3-5 full breaths here, noticing what’s happening. Are you able to have that longer exhalation here (creating additional calming for the ANS)? Are you able to breathe deeply and fully?
To come out of Downward Dog, you might walk your feet towards your hands and roll on up or bend the knees and come back into Child pose.
Being able to breathe fully in Downward Dog (not when you’re starting out, perhaps as exertion has an impact on our ability to breathe deeply, too) benefits the vagus nerve (that long ‘wandering’ cranial nerve that’s responsible for sending 80% of signals from body to brain enabling us to change the way we feel by breathing and moving differently). Naturally, this helps balance the autonomic nervous systems (ANS).
Our immune systems benefit from the toxin flushing Downward Dog allows. It also stretches the sciatic nerve so can bring relief over the long term but avoid Downward Dog in the midst of a flare up – your body’s wisdom is always greater than anyone else’s words. Pay attention to what feels friendly in any given moment. Like all asanas, something that feels delightful one day can be very challenging the next or even later in the day (or visa versa).
Yoga is a way in which we can better get to know our bodies and their signals to us.
While Downward Dog is a resting pose during dynamic flows, you may find Child more restful. Personally, I love the stretch but if an old shoulder injury is flaring up, I do less or avoid.
How do you feel about Downward Dog?
What are your favourite stretches?
Feel free to comment below.
IF YOU’RE NEW TO YOGA AND DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO THESE POSES, GO TO A YOGA THERAPIST OR INSTRUCTOR. IF YOU’RE NEW TO EXERCISE, CONSULT YOUR GP BEFOREHAND. ALWAYS HONOUR YOUR BODY’S OWN WISDOM