Here are some of the reasons why Downward Dog is good for you:
- Stretches the chest and front of the shoulders alleviating upper back and shoulder pain/discomfort
- Lengthens and strengthens the entire spinal column
- Strengthens the arms, wrists and hands
- Strengthens the glutes, legs, ankles and feet
- Stimulates blood circulation in the abdominal cavity, specifically the digestion organs
- Stretches the abdominals, psoas muscles, hip flexors, and all of the muscles of the front of the body used for stabilization and forward bending
In order to do Downward Dog correctly, follow these steps:
- Begin on all fours, supported by hands and feet.
- Place hands directly under shoulders, with palms flat against the ground and fingers facing away from the knees. The middle fingers will be pointing toward the top of the mat.
- Place the knees beneath the hips, with the feet directly behind the knees. Let the feet be relaxed so that they are resting with the tops of the feet against the ground.
- Shift your weight forward, drop your belly and arch your back. Keep your thighs hovering just above the ground.
- Activate your palms against the ground while squeezing your elbows in toward your body for support.
- Lower your shoulders down and away from your ears.
- Draw your shoulders back and away from each other to open up the chest.
- Lift the crown (top) of your head while lengthening the back of your neck.
- Press the tops of the feet against the ground for additional support while activating the glutes to stabilize the pelvis.
Don’ts—Common mistakes beginners make in upward facing dog yoga
- Torquing the neck: One common mistake beginners make in Upward Facing Dog is to tilt the neck to lift the chin to the sky. This compresses the bones in the back of the neck causing muscle tension and possible nerve impingement. The correct form is to keep the back of the neck elongated and the chin parallel with the ground as you raise the crown (top) of your head toward the sky.
- Shrugged shoulders: It’s also common to see the shoulders shrugging up around the ears during this pose. Instead, lower the shoulders away from the ears while moving your shoulder blades down your back. Lift with your spine rather than your shoulders.
- Compressing the low back: If you are feeling pinching or strain in your low back during this posture, you may be compressing your low back by arching too much. Tuck your tailbone under slightly to flatten your low back. Engage your core by bringing your belly button in toward your spine and slightly up toward your ribs to provide support during this spinal extension.
- Taking shoulders too far forward: Be cautious not to bring your shoulders too far forward. This is another common mistake that can cause more harm than good. Having the shoulders too far forward puts unnecessary strain on the wrists and elbows. Align your shoulders directly over your wrists, or even a little behind them if your wrists are weak or have been previously injured.
- Bringing the shoulder blades too close together: It’s common in Upward Facing Dog to pinch the shoulder blades together. This creates unnecessary strain and discomfort in the upper back and shoulder girdle. Instead, actively shift the shoulder blades away from each other, flattening the space between them to create a more stable and aligned upper back.
Props and Modifications
You should consider a modification if you experience the following:
- Pain or restriction in the hands/wrists
- Discomfort along the tops of the feet/ankles
- Back pain or restriction, particularly in the low back
Pain or restriction in the hands/wrists:
- Upward Facing Dog can be modified for sensitive or injured wrists by dropping the elbows and forearms to the floor. (This is known as Sphinx Pose.)
- For sensitive wrists, using blocks can be helpful. Place each palm flat on a block with your fingers folded down the front of the block. This alleviates strain on the wrist. Adjust the height of the block to your preference. The shorter the block, the more stable it will be. Make sure to keep your shoulders directly over your wrists, or even a little behind them, to avoid tipping the blocks.
Discomfort along the tops of the feet/ankles:
- Allowing your thighs to rest on the ground (in Cobra Pose) can take some of the strain off the feet and ankles.
- Alternatively, you can place a folded blanket or rolled towel under your ankles.
Back pain or restriction, particularly in the low back:
- Bend the elbows to decrease the intensity of the backbend, alleviating strain in the back.
- Conversely, you can do this pose on elbows and forearms (also called Sphinx Pose) to accommodate more severe spinal limitations.
- Using a bolster or rolled blanket placed horizontally under your thighs can create some height which decreases the severity of the backbend.
- Place a bolster under the belly (extending lengthwise beneath the trunk) to provide support and elevation for the pelvis.
- Placing hands on blocks creates more space for the spine to expand, and can be helpful for those with shorter arms and/or a longer torso.
Commonly Asked Questions
- What muscles does Upward Facing Dog work?
- What is the difference between Upward Facing Dog and Cobra Pose?
- When is Upward Facing Dog contraindicated?
What muscles does Upward Facing Dog work?
- Stretches the entire front of the body
- Strengthens all the muscles that attach to the spine
- Strengthens muscles of the hands, arms and shoulders
- Tones and elongates the abdominals
- Strengthens the glutes
What is the difference between Upward Facing Dog and Cobra Pose?
- In Upward Facing Dog, the pelvis, thighs and knees are elevated off the ground. In Cobra Pose, the pelvis, thighs and knees are resting on the ground.
When is Upward Facing Dog contraindicated?
- Overly tight or injured wrists/hands, including advanced carpal tunnel syndrome
- Acute back injury, such as a slipped or herniated disc
- Pregnancy in the second or third trimester
- Recent abdominal injury or surgery
Additional Resources For Beginners
Beginner Yoga Workouts – https://bodybyyoga.training/beginners-yoga-for-men-and-women/
Yoga For Beginners Guide – https://bodybyyoga.training/yoga-for-beginners
Yoga For Back Pain – https://bodybyyoga.training/backpain/