Our teacher’s thoughts on Asana of the Month:  Downward Facing Dog

Teacher | Donna Todd

Why I love Downward Facing Dog:

It’s a great way to notice and correct spinal imbalances. It has different effects for a variety of people; stretching and opening for some while stabilizing joints for others. Downward Dog uses strength developed in arms and legs to fully elongate and open the spine, hips, hamstrings, and calves as it strengthens your quadriceps and ankles. Along the way, the chest opens as the shoulders, arms and abdominals are toned.

Try this basic approach to good Alignment:

Come to a modified child’s pose with your knees wide apart, buttocks comfortably pulled toward heels and big toes together. Place your hands shoulder-width apart with the wrist creases parallel to the front edge of your mat. Extend your arms forward, gently lifting the forearms away from the mat. Press the shoulder blades into the back and widen (protract) them through drawing the outer arms down toward the floor and the inner arms gently toward the ceiling, establishing external rotation of the shoulders. (You can practice this shoulder movement with hands on a table or wall so you can play with the outer spiral of the upper arm that creates external shoulder rotation before taking it to the floor). Lengthen the front and back body as the tailbone and pubis reach back away from the hands, buttocks to heels.

Allow the breath to flow deeply and freely providing a warming for the spine and shoulders.

From child’s pose, come to all fours, maintaining shoulder action as you line the hands up slightly in front of the shoulders. Bring the knees and feet hip-width apart and the outside edges of your feet parallel to one another. Curl your toes under and lift your hips up and back, extending pelvis and lower spine upward. Keep your knees well-bent and heels elevated. This is a good time to check for steadiness and ease as in all parts of the body.

If you decide to go further, slowly straighten your legs, extend your hips upward and press upper thigh back. Keep your heels high until you feel warm and ready to lower them. The goal is to feel a well-balanced, strong, calm elongation throughout the body!

Teacher | Holly G

In Ashtanga Yoga, we do quite a few down dogs. A nice way to begin is in child’s pose with arms stretched in front of you, shoulder distance apart. Reach your finger tips as far forward as possible and lift your forearms off the floor. Make sure the pit of your elbows are facing each other as you move your shoulders down your back then broadening them away from your spine. Lift your pelvic floor (mula bandha) and hollow out your low belly. Think of your low ribs pulling back toward your spine or knitting together (uddiyana bandha). A good option is to stay in this position but if you’re moving into downward dog, push down into your hands. It should feel like you are making finger prints in your mat. Then lift your sit bones toward the ceiling, engage your legs and push down mat. Then lift your sit bones toward the ceiling, engage your legs and push down through your heals. Keep your shoulders just as you had them in child’s pose and engage mula bandha and uddiyana bandha again. Downward dog is a lovely pose for the shoulders, legs and spine and in Ashtanga, it actually becomes a wonderful resting pose.