If you’re at all familiar with yoga, you’ve seen (or done) the Downward Facing Dog pose. Not only will it show up in most yoga classes, but it is also a great all around pose to practice anywhere, anytime. Downward Dog helps us warm up, transition between other poses, and restore our system during cool down. It builds strength and flexibility and gives a lovely calming effect for the mind.
However, for many of us, there are limits to what we can do, which can feel discouraging. To get past that feeling and get the full benefit from the pose, I have some tips and tricks to help along the way. Pay close attention to your form to get the most benefits and avoid injury. The most important thing is to keep the spine long and the hips high. Do this by pushing the hips back to put more weight in the feet than the hands. A few common issues can make this challenging:
- Tight hamstrings and calves
- Not enough upper body strength
- Limited flexibility in the shoulders
Try these 2 tricks to tame your dog and help you get the most benefits without the limits:
Try the Chair Downward Dog at least once a day. Hold for 5-10 breaths (10 is a lot for most of us, so start with 5). Start with the top version. Once you’re able to reach 10 breaths, try the second position.1. Use a chair
This option builds upper body strength and gently stretches your hamstrings. It’s especially helpful if your shoulders or wrists are tight or injured. Notice that the arms are straight, the spine is long like a tabletop, and feet directly under the hips and about hip-width far apart.
As you feel more confident in the pose, here are a few more tips:2. Place a towel under your heels
A bit more challenging than using the chair – but give it a try! This option stretches your hamstrings and builds more strength in the upper body. If this is hard on your knees, stay with the chair or place extra padding under your knees. Begin by rolling a towel and place at the bottom of your mat. Come to all fours – push your hands into the mat, lift your hips and land your feet onto the rolled towel. Adjust the height of the roll as needed. Straighten the arms and keep knees bent. If your hamstrings allow, slowly straighten the knees. Try to hold it for 5-10 breaths, and practice at least once a day.
- Create more strength– Push firmly into your feet, which automatically engages leg muscles. At the same time, pull your abs up towards your spine.
- Enjoy the stretch – Pull your shoulders away from the ears and pull your hips back away from your shoulders.
- Ahhh…calm – Breathe slowly and close your eyes. Stay here for as long as you like!
Be patient with yourself. It might not feel fully satisfying right away, or it may feel like it’s not available to you today, but keep at it. With a little time, you will get to your best pose, whatever that is for you. After all, a tame dog is a happy dog!
Beth Passehl, MS, ERYT-200, RYT-500, YACEP, works on WebMD’s editorial staff and serves as the team’s resident expert in yoga and mindfulness. In addition to her Yoga Alliance certifications, Beth is a Level 1 Usui Reiki Practitioner. She has been teaching yoga for over 15 years and is passionate about creating a balanced life and sharing those lessons with others.