Improve Your Down Dog in Yoga

Down dog (adho mukha svanasana) is one of those transition poses that you will see several times in a vinyasa style yoga class. It’s a challenging pose for beginners until strength is built which takes time. Until it becomes relatively easy, most people come across the following issues: 1) sore wrists, 2) tired shoulders, and 3) tight hamstrings. I’ve outlined some basic solutions below.

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“My Wrists Hurt in Down Dog”

Problem #1: Sore Wrists
If you find that your wrists get tired or start to hurt during class, chances are you are not distributing the weight throughout your whole hand.

Solution
1. Spread fingers w-i-d-e
2. Press through the knuckles of your fingers and the base of the finger joints.
3. Point the index fingers straight ahead, or align your hands so that the inner elbows have a slight upward rotation. (This isn’t 100% true for everyone, depending on the shape of your joints and bones…but is true for a large percentage.)

“My Shoulders Get Tired in Down Dog”

Problem #2: Tired Shoulders 
If your shoulders are getting tired, you may be off in your alignment and not engaging the area below the navel.

Solution:
1. First check the alignment of your hands and see if you can bring more space into the shoulders and neck by pointing the index fingers straight ahead which rotates the inner arms/elbows upward. 
2. Aim for a straight line from your wrists to your hips. If this means bending the knees because of tight hamstrings or calves, that’s perfectly okay. It will take some pressure off of the shoulder girdle as a whole. 
* When the arms are bearing weight, the shoulder joint will experience more freedom and actually getting that straight line form the wrists to the hips is more achievable in down dog as opposed to raising the arms over head without bearing weight. 
3. Engage the lower belly by drawing the area below your navel back toward the spine. On each exhale, contract this area and lift the pelvis up and back. You will feel lighter in the pose as the focus is taken off of the upper body and the strength gets distributed toward the center of the body. It’s just physics.

“My Hamstrings Are Too Tight for Down Dog”

Problem #3: Tight Hamstrings and Calves
If you feel like it’s your legs that are holding you back due to highness in the hips, hamstrings, or calves, give yourself the gift of time and practice patience.

Solution
1. Do most of your forward bending and down dogs throughout the practice with slightly bent knees. Allow the nervous system some time (weeks or months) to adjust to your yoga practice by keeping the knees slightly bent. Once the nerves begin to adjust to the movements, proprioception of the poses changes over time. Your mind has to be able to easily know the feeling of the shape of the pose without discomfort for there to be real comfort in holding the pose. Re-read that last sentence.
2. Use your exhale to imagine a release in the back of the legs. 
3. Gently reach for the mat through your heels. 
4. Do not overstretch the hamstrings throughout your practice, as it will lead back to tightness and sore muscles the next day. Overstretching is a “1-step forward, 2-steps back” kind of thing.

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