Maybe you’ve heard Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) referred to as a resting pose. Maybe your next thought was “What!?!?…” The truth is, Downward Facing Dog doesn’t always feel all that restful. It takes work to hold that position. However, with just a little bit of fine-tuning, you can bring a sense of zen to the pose. Here are 5 tips to help you get there:
1. Ensure the angle of the hip joint equals 90 degrees
The feet and the hands should be equidistant from the hips. When viewed from the side, the legs and the torso should create a right angle at the hip joint. If either the hands or the feet are too far forward or too far back, the weight won’t be distributed evenly and the amount of effort required to hold the pose will increase.
To find the proper distance, begin in Plank pose (Ardha Chaturanga Dandasana) with the wrists directly underneath the shoulders and the balls of the feet underneath the heels. The pelvis should be in line with the shoulders and heels or, in other words, the body should be flat – like a plank. Without moving the feet or hands, simply lift the hips up and back. From here, you should be in an ideal Downward Facing Dog shape, but you can always check things out in a mirror just to be sure.
2. Turn on the muscles in the arms and legs
Engage the muscles in the upper arms and hug them to the bone. Wrap the triceps (the outer upper arm) down toward the mat as you introduce a slight bend into the elbows (engaging the biceps). Firm the legs by contracting the quadriceps (the front of the thighs). Lift the knee cap up as you press the thigh bones back (thereby firing the hamstrings). Strong arms and legs will help distribute the effort and increase stability in the pose.
3. Lengthen arms and waist up and back
As you press your hands into the floor, lengthen the arms and the sides of the waist up and away from the palms. This is the principle of “root and rebound”. While the hands press down, energy rebounds and travels up the forearms, upper arms, and along the torso. By taking advantage of this energetic give and take, you can introduce a sense of lightness to your Downward Facing Dog.
4. Keep the legs weighted down
Root firmly down through the legs. Visualize your legs as solid tree trunks with roots traveling through the soles of the feet into the floor. Picture the roots dense and deep. With this image in mind, allow yourself to stand more firmly into the legs. As you do so, feel yourself lifting your hips up off the waist, bringing lightness to the arms and hands.
5. Don’t forget to breathe
Perhaps the most important aspect of any pose, the breath is the tool we use to steady our minds. Make your inhales and exhales long, smooth, and deep. Allow the breath to be the thing that focuses your mind and draws your attention inward. When we are able to calm the citta vrttis (fluctuations) of the mind, we can’t help but abandon thoughts about how hard something might feel.
Follow these 5 simple tips next time you’re in Downward Facing Dog and discover how restful the pose can actually be. Perhaps you’ll never want to leave!
(Please let me know if you find these types of posts useful. I’m happy to write more!)