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3 top tips: downward facing dog

Wondering how to get your downdog tip-top? Here’s how:

Downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) is one of yoga’s most recognisable yoga poses, and one of the trickiest asanas (poses) to get right for you - and to feel good in.

How do I know if I’m doing it right?

It’s all about coming back to the intention of the asana and how it feels in your body.

Downdog is an inversion, where we end up in a rough upside down V shape with the tailbone being the bottom point of the V. The pose stretches the back side of the body by folding at the hips with a neutral spine, letting the tailbone flick up towards the ceiling, moves our shoulders into flexion (arms over head) whilst building strength across your whole body. We’re bearing weight roughly 50/50 between our hands and feet.

Like any yoga asana - these points form the framework of what a Downdog is and there are certainly cases where the shape might not fit into that framework. Something like the image below is going to feel pretty icky, and it also doesn't really match that framework of a downward dog either - it's kind of a half plank/dog hybrid thing... but it's fairly representative of what I see as a teacher all the time!

It’s about finding a position that meets the framework of the shape, takes your unique anatomy into account AND is comfortable for you and that will be different to everyone else’s shape - variations in foot, arm and hand position are totally okay.

It is a strong pose – it will feel like work, especially initially. Downdog is often hyped up as a resting pose, but it absolutely isn't a resting pose. It's a very big strong one. It's often used as a pause point for everyone to come back together or as a transition point into other poses, and that's what's often meant here.

Finding comfort in downdog is more about checking that there’s no sharp pain, pinching or soreness, a comfortable balance of weight between upper and lower body and adjusting accordingly.

Come back to the intention above and ask yourself; is that happening for me?

Troubleshoot your downdog

Painful wrists? Use your hands!

Wrist pain is the top downdog complaint and it nearly always comes down to hand activity and positioning. Make sure you are pressing the first knuckle of your fingers down into the floor, spread your fingers as wide as possible and actively push the floor away from you.

If you let the knuckles peel up and away from the floor, that means the hands are placed loosely and aren’t actively working to support you in the asana. This causes more weight to dump into the wrists, weight isn’t distributed across the hands and causes pain. Active hands are your friend!

When you press your hands and finger tips down into the floor, this gives you resistance which then activates all the muscles up your arms and supports your joints, reducing the opportunity for pain.

Pinchy shoulders? Change your hand position!

Another top complaint is pinching into the shoulders. You might have been told that you must “draw your shoulders away from your ears” that, sadly is totally wrong advice.

Your shoulders are designed to go up when you put your arms up in the air – it’s called your scapular humeral rhythm. When you then go and actively pull your shoulders down that can lead to you messing up this natural piece of biomechanics and causing injury eventually.

What do you do instead? Turn your fingers out slightly (towards 11 and 1 on a clock roughly, maybe less, maybe more) and take your hands a bit wider, instead of having your first or middle finger forwards. Once you’re up in your downdog let your shoulder blades broaden out to the sides of your body.

Doing this alters the rotational position of our arm in our shoulder socket which then allows for a bit more space for our nerves and muscles on the top of the shoulder (bye bye pinching!)

Bend your knees.. and forget about your heels

The point of downdog is a stretch into the back side of the body. A common misconception is that means straight legs… but nope!

Often, straight legs makes the spine round because lots of us have tight hamstrings. You’re far better off bending your knees to ensure your spine is in a neutral position than having straight legs and having your spine in a position that is at odds with what we’re trying to do in the asana.

Another obsession is getting heels flat on the floor. Mindblowing revelation incoming… heels flat on the floor is a range of motion that is deemed excessive medically. For most of us, it’s totally out of reach. It’s fine to have them lifted! Mine certainly are!

So there's my three top quick tips to find a happier place in your Downward Dog.

Want to learn more about this pose? I've created a Downward Dog Movement Breakdown video which is available on the Lion & Lion+ Tiers of the Pride Pack Virtual Yoga Studio. New members get a 7 day free trial to give it a go and memberships start at a pocket friendly £10 per month.

If you're local to Bicester I have a wonderful workshop coming up in March called The "Am I doing this right?" Workshop - this is a space to answer that perennial question, and get you confident with a suite of key yoga poses. Find out more here!

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