WebMD BlogsFood and Fitness

2 Tricks to Tame Your Downward Dog

By Beth Passehl, MSSeptember 28, 2017
From the WebMD Archives

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!

For more ideas – check out these short videos:
7 Yoga Poses to Stretch Your Lower Back
10-Minute Yoga Routine

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.

WebMD Blog
© 2017 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
Blog Topics:

More from the Food and Fitness Blog

  • weight scale illustration

    How to Handle Pandemic Weight Gain

    At the doctor’s office recently, the nurse weighed me and said, “That’s five pounds heavier than last time you were here.” I was taken aback--not by the news, but that she’d actually made the comment ...

  • hot tea

    7 Facts About Tea That May Surprise You

    Judging from our local coffee shop’s drive-thru line, coffee dominates the morning caffeine scramble for a lot of people. But tea actually outshines coffee worldwide ...

View all posts on Food and Fitness

Latest Blog Posts on WebMD

View all blog posts

Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.

Read More