Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward Facing Dog / Asana series 2

Every time I see a dog stretching I wish I could feel that light on my Downward Facing Dog.
I never understood how teachers could tell me that this was a resting pose. How could I rest in a pose where my arms could barely hold the weight of my entire body, and where my hamstrings were burning while I tried to push my heels to the floor?! But as everything in life, it came with practice!!!
The major point of this posture and the most difficult one for most of us is lifting the hips. The moment this magic happens, the rest of the posture comes together feeling effortless.
The first piece of advice I can give you when you approach any challenging posture like Adho Mukha Svanasana, is to do it from inside. Try to feel the energy flow lifting your body, because when you concentrate only on the “how it looks” part of the posture you are just blocking your energy.
In downward Dog, try to lift from your first chakra, right at the base of the spine! It is not about pushing down or trying to bring the shoulders towards the mat; it is all about lifting. You just use your hands to help on the extension of your torso but the real lift comes from inside.
The main anatomical points of this pose are: hands, shoulders, core, and the hips. As I mentioned in my Tadasana blog, in Yoga postures the movement flows like a cascade, and what you do with one part of the body resonates in the rest of your alignment making it easier when it is right, or making it sometimes impossible when it is wrong.
Starting with your hands, make sure the entire palm of your hand is active and grounding all the time, people usually let go on the hands and then the entire body starts to struggle. It is very important to keep your fingers flat and long on the mat with your middle fingers pointing forward (if you have tight shoulders try rotating the hands a bit outward having the index fingers parallel). Bring the weight more towards the thumb and index fingers and inwardly rotate the forearms, so the creases of your elbows are facing each other; when you put more effort on the outer edge of your hands it makes it quite impossible to apply this rotation. The action in your hands should be a light push forward that creates a reaction of lengthening the spine in the opposite direction. While in the posture, take a look at your hands every now and then until your body finally memorizes it and does it automatically, with no effort. This alignment of the hands will be very useful in all the postures where the hands are on the floor.
When it comes to your shoulders, you should apply the same outer rotation of Tadasana, trying to turn the armpits down towards the floor, keeping your shoulders away from your ears. This will release tension from the neck area, so you can use that energy on the lift.
The core and hips are both involved in the same movement: lifting towards the sky. Keep your navel towards your spine and your ribs in while you keep on lifting from the base of the spine and from the groins. Just forget about your legs for a moment and concentrate on elongating the torso from your hands all the way up to the hips. When you reach the right extension of the torso, then you can work on your legs.
At first, you can bend your knees as much as needed to ensure the full extension of the torso. Then, pushing the quadriceps (front of your thighs) towards the back of your thighs, try to straighten your legs without loosing the torso. When you let go on your torso, the tendency is to bring the shoulders forward putting lots of weight into the arms making it feel impossible to hold the pose. Don’t rush it people! Wait until you are ready! Step by step! First the torso, then the legs!
When you are able to have your legs straight, then you can try to apply an inward rotation of the thighs that will broaden the space on your lower back and in consequence it will make the lift of the hips even easier.
One common thing people tend to do is bringing the heels down no matter what, most of the time shortening the space between the hands and the feet because that gives them the sensation of a perfect Dog. Well, that’s not the case. At first, if you have tight hamstrings, it is better to keep your feet farther from your hands and then shorten the distance with time, as you gain flexibility. A very important piece of information here is that your heels might never be able to touch the floor, which is totally fine!
Students often ask me what the perfect distance between the hands and the feet is. Well, there are a few ways to get into it with a better alignment, but the distance can always fluctuate depending on the connecting postures or the kind of postures you are practicing.
You can start finding the distance from Child’s pose, extending your arms far forward and then tucking your toes under and lifting the hips. I like this approach with the beginners because it allows them to gradually extend the torso from Child’s pose to then concentrate on the lift of the hips and the straightening of the legs.
You can also take it from Plank with your shoulders right over your wrists and your body in a straight line and then push your hands forward while moving the hips up and back.
You can even start by lying down on your belly with your hands besides your lower ribs and tucking your toes under push your hips all the way up into the posture.
Downward dog is an inversion, and as so we have to learn to deal with a different perspective of gravity. When I’m struggling with any inversion I try to remember how easy and light it is to stand in Tadasana/Mountain and I try to translate that sensation into the inversion. In Downward Dog, this association might also help you make that lift of the hips easier.
One last piece of advice for today: always remember that Yoga is not a competition; you should not compare yourself with others as we all have different bodies, different backgrounds, and different strengths. Try to keep your awareness inside and find that inner strength that can make you move mountains.

Leave your thought