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Mastering Your Downward Facing Dog
by Tarra J. Madore


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Whenever my two pugs get up from a resting position, whether it is morning, noon or night, they do a perfect Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose). They show off the mastery of muscular engagement and lengthening. I watch as they breathe, press the pads of their paws into the earth, and with toned muscles they lift and press their sit bones back. Their poses are principles of yoga in action each and every time. They know how important this pose is and do it as many times a day as I do in my daily practice. 

Just because our canine friends love this pose as much as we do doesn't mean we should try to copy their form. While the basic action of a dog and human doing Adho Mukha Svanasana are the same, the anatomy of a dog and human are different so the form of the pose should be a little different as well. You don’t want your Down Dog to look exactly like the quadruped version. For example, many people try to emulate how a dog's front legs look in this pose. However, if a human achieves the same look (with our differently-enabled shoulder joints) his or her arms are probably not engaged and are instead collapsing toward the floor.

For Downward Facing Dog, start on your hands and knees. Have your wrists slightly in front of your shoulders and your knees slightly behind your hips. Pay close attention to how you place your hands on the mat. The hands are your foundation and you want your foundation to be structurally sound. When placing your hands on the mat, get into the habit of placing your finger tips down first. This is important because pressing into the pads of your fingers will strengthen your foundation and prevent wrist injuries. If you already have a wrist injury, you will find this action to be therapeutic. The creases of your wrists should be parallel to the top of your mat. With the tips of the fingers firmly planted, place the index finger knuckle down (where the index finger meets the palm), then place the thumb down at the junction where it meets the palm. Keep the inside of the hand firmly rooted as you place the rest of the fingers down as well. Finally, place the heel of the hand on the mat. The weight should be evenly distributed in the four corners of the hand. Anytime the majority of your weight is resting on the outer heel of the hand, you run the risk of injury. Your fingers should be spread out. Aim for equal space between all of your fingers, including the space between the thumb and index finger. The thumbs have more mobility, but you do not want to overspread them. That will cause weakness rather than strength. Be sure that the fingers do not turn in, although they may turn out slightly. Make your foundation strong by taking the time to root your hands down with good alignment and the rest of the pose has unlimited potential.

From the hands and knees position, step the knees back a step, angle your arms back so the shoulders are behind the wrists and keep your arm bones lifted. Lift your knees off the floor, keeping the knees bent at first. Do the action of hugging your shins toward each other but keep the knees as wide as the ankles. This action should engage the muscles of the inner thighs. Using the inner thighs that are now engaged, press back and straighten the legs. With hands rooted, draw energy from the hands, up the arms into the heart center. Keep the arm bones lifting toward the sky as you melt the heart center between the arms. As you press strongly into your hands, lift your sit bones up and back, lowering your heels toward the floor. Contrary to popular opinion, your heels do not have to touch, but you should be doing the action of pressing the heels down toward the floor. You want to keep the distance between your hands and feet a good length. In other words, do not walk your feet closer to your hands just to get your heels to touch. 

Downward Facing Dog is a powerful and dynamic pose. No matter how long you have been practicing you can always fine tune it. You want to be aware of your tendencies with this pose and be mindful of maintaining proper alignment. When doing Downward Facing Dog, with good intention and awareness, you can enjoy it each and every time, just as much as our furry friends.


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About the Author

Tarra Piparo Madore is a yoga instructor and retired chiropractor who has studied at Palmer College of Chiropractic, Himalayan Institute and most recently with senior certified Anusara teachers Naime Jezzeny and Sue Elkind. She is Director of Inner Light Yoga Center in North Brunswick, NJ and is also Co-Publisher and Creative Director for New Jersey Namaste News magazine.








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