Downward facing dog is easily the most common pose that pops into peoples' heads when they think of yoga. Even for non-yogis, most are familiar with this pose. In a yoga class, downdog is often the anchoring pose you return to the most frequently. Downdog is a transitional pose, a strengthening pose, a resting pose and a fundamental part of sun salutations. (Interestingly, the pose is not emphasized as much in India as it is in America).
Downward facing dog sets a firm foundation for your practice. It's a full body stretch, a mild inversion and a great strength builder for your arms, legs and shoulders. Practicing this pose with the correct alignment can open up your back and make it less likely to store tension. Downdog is also a good pose for you to "check in" with yourself; as it stretches your full body you can take note of where you are tense or sore or where you need to focus your practice.
I've gotten to a place in my own practice where I look forward to downdog after a tough series of asanas and I am able to really settle into the pose. In downdog, I experience the most opening of my shoulders and stretching of my legs. The pose is a strong foundation and a place where I can find rest and re-focus my breath.
Like most yogis though, I didn't always find pleasure in downdog. It's a tough pose to master; the proper alignment is taught over and over in the beginning and advanced classes. You need to build the strength and gain a bit of flexibility before it starts to feel good. Be kind with yourself as you are working in this pose, but also stick with it. The only way to build strength and gain flexibility is practice.
How to do downward facing dog:
- Start on your hands and knees, your wrists directly stacked under your shoulders and your arms straight and firmly pressed into the ground. Your knees should be directly under your hips. Keep a long, neutral spine.
- Tuck your toes and press firmly into the ground as you exhale and slowly lift through your pelvis drawing your hips up, coming into an upside down V shape.
- Gently straighten your legs, but do not lock out your knees.
- Lengthen your spine and reach your pelvis towards the ceiling and your sit bones towards the wall behind you.
- Engage your core, pulling your navel towards your spine.
- Spread your fingers wide and press firmly into them distributing the weight evenly across your hands.
- Keep your hands firmly planted, but rotate your arms so the crease of your elbow is facing your thumbs. Lift from the inner arm bone and draw your shoulder blades down your back and away from your ears. Broaden across your collarbone.
- Let your head rest between your arms, focusing your gaze between your legs
- Draw your chest towards your thighs as you actively push the mat away from you.