Ah, the classic downward dog, Ardho Mukha Svanasana. The pose that always baffles beginners when the yoga teacher says “come into downward dog to rest if you need to”. How is this a ‘resting’ position!?
When I tried yoga for the very first time, just like every beginner, I contemplated giving up and I definitely did not like the feeling of being in downward dog. It took me at least a few more attempts before I actually enjoyed yoga….and downward dog was one of the reasons. Holding the downward dog just felt awfully long and that time was passing way too slowly in this pose – it felt like the whole class! I couldn’t even recall what were the other poses in the sequence.
The reason why almost all beginners feel this way is because the pose counter-stretches all the muscles that we overuse in our daily activities. We are almost never in a similar position to downward dog , and this is what makes it so good for us. The downward dog is an inversion pose (surprise! You can do an inversion too even if you are a beginner!) and inversion poses are great because it promotes blood flow to our heads. It also helps stretch out all those tight hamstrings that almost everyone who sits for too long suffers from. In downward dog, the priority is to maintain a straight spine as much as possible and feel the extension from the base of our spine all the way to our neck, and this helps decompress and lengthen our spine. By placing our arms next to our ears and really pushing back to gaze at our navel, this helps to work out all the kinks we have build up from hunching in front of the computer and over our phones.
Another reason why downward dog may seem challenging is also because almost every beginner will not be doing the pose correctly. To enter into downward dog, one common method I prefer is to enter from table top position, where your wrists are just below your shoulder and your knees right below your hips. This neutral position creates the perfect distance between your palms and your feet, and next is to lift both knees off the mat and push your hips towards the ceiling as high as you can to create an inverted ‘V’ shape without moving your palms and knees. For most with tight hamstrings, resist the tendency to straighten your legs or touch your heels on the ground. This will distort the ‘V’ shape and you will look more like a bridge. The key is to always keep your spine straight and to do this you will need to bend your knees as much as you need to to have your belly touch your thighs. Don’t be afraid to keep your heels lifted – this will happen if your achilles tendon is tight, not just your hamstrings. Keep going at it and one day you’ll be able to straighten your knees and touch your heels on the mat. You’ll be able to even lift all 10 toes when that happens!
The downward dog is a very powerful pose; it is a classic pose in (almost) every single (hatha/vinyasa) yoga sequence and it is classic for a very good reason (just like the sun salutation sequence). It’s honestly my favourite RESTING pose now in between poses and I absolutely love that good hamstring and achilles stretch that I get every single time.
200 Hour YTT Oct’20