Monday, November 3, 2008

Downward Facing Dog

Downward facing dog is one of my all-time favorite poses.   For me, it is a restful pose, full of intricate possibilities.  It's a pose that I can explore in.  I can test out my hamstrings, arm strength, the tone of my belly, and be as engaged or relaxed as I chose.  It's a pose that I love to linger in during my own practice and I often stay for a several breaths before moving into another posture.  I experience it as a very fluid pose even though both hands and feet are grounded.

As a teacher, I get the most questions about downward facing dog.  I hear complaints of wrists hurting, shoulders hurting, or hips feeling stuck.  I make the most suggestions for adjustments in this pose, as sometimes a small change can make a huge difference.

Below, you will see me in the downward facing dog.  The first picture, I am out of balance.  The extension of the pose and my weight stops at my wrists.  This is often a cause of wrist pain in the pose.  

The second picture is downward facing dog practiced with balance between arms and legs.  Each picture will includes comments below to help you find the most balance and ease in your practice of downward facing dog.

This was my first attempt at modeling poses.  It was also Monica Nettle's (friend and photographer extraordinaire) first attempt at photographing yoga poses.  I think she did a great job, we were both nervous about the process and the end result.   I am very thankful for Monica's help on this project.

Notice that my stride here is short and my shoulders are almost directly over my hands.  My back is rounded and in general, there is little ease in my posture here.  There are other imbalances that are not shown in this picture.  One when one's head hangs like a bowling ball.  In the beginning, I remember having bowling ball head.  Another is hammock armpits.  That is when one presses the armpits strongly toward the floor in an attempt to get more stretch.  Interestingly enough, it just stresses the shoulders and there is little actual stretch or length in the upper back.  Another is not having all 10 fingers rooting into the floor.  There is amazing potential in just engaging and pressing down through all of the first and second knuckles of each finger. 

In this picture you might notice that I have more space between my hands and feet.  This allows room for the pose to open up.  I have all ten fingers strongly rooted.  My hands are as wide as my shoulders and there is a bit of a lift along the front of my body from my arm pits to my low belly.  This support on the underside of the pose takes the pressure off of wrists and shoulders.  My feet are hip-width apart and my heels slightly lifted.  If you notice the position of my head, it is neither lifted, nor hanging.  I often try to create the feeling of headstand with my head and neck in downward facing dog.  This small effort really lights up the pose.   If your hips are tight and you have trouble creating a clean line from hands to hips, try bending your knees until you can feel your belly engage, your sit bones lift and broaden and your weight shift away from your hands.

I hope this little tidbit is helpful.  I will be happy to answer any questions you might have, just send them to me via email.   I will be featuring poses regularly in my blog.