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A Beginner’s Guide to Downward Dog

by Elaine Clara Mah

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The Downward Dog or Adho Mukha Svanasana is perhaps the most commonly seen pose but also the most understated pose in yoga. It features in Sun Salutations, is commonly used as a transition in flows and Vinyasa yoga, as well as a preparatory pose to inversions. 

When done right, the Downward Dog is possibly the most beneficial asana that one can practice. The pose helps to relieve symptoms of menopause, back pain and fatigue. It is a whole body workout, toning the arms, legs and abdominals. It also strengthens the core, which is the basis for just about every pose in yoga.

Here are a few tips to incorporate into Downward Dog:


Work from ground up

Press your heel and the front part of your foot down. Relax the toes and try not to grasp the mat with your toes. The idea is to ground your feet to the mat while keeping your toes relaxed.

Once you are able to get your feet pressed firmly, start rotating the back of your thighs out. The rotation of the back thighs is a subtle movement, but an essential one in order to prevent the arching of your lower back.

If you can’t bring your heel down on the mat, don’t fret! It is okay to work with the heels off the mat as long as you ground the front part of your feet without tensing your toes. 


Keep the spine long!

Most people are, for the most part, able to keep a straight back when in Downward Dog. However, to effectively keep the spine long, remember to draw the upper sacrum in. Once that feels okay, guide the lower sternum down towards the mat and then up towards the ceiling. The idea is to try to open your chest while in the position.

Another common problem when it comes to the spine is the arching of the back. This is a common error among those of us with more mobility in the spine. If you have a flexible back, be conscious of how much you are arching. Draw your lower ribs slightly up so that your spine remains in neutral position!


Press your whole palm down

Many times, the outward rotation of the shoulder will lead to an uneven distribution of weight on the palms, with more weight being placed on the outer palm. This can be detrimental to the ulnar (pinkie) side of the wrist, causing pain in the long run.

To counter this, place emphasis on keeping your whole palm down on the mat. For starters, press the inner palm (where the thumb and the index finger are) down on the mat. A good tip to keep in mind is to check that all your fingers, especially the index fingers, are pointing forward.

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