Downward Facing Dog is one of my favorite asanas, because it’s a wonderful, all-over stretch. Even if I only have time to do one quick asana before heading out the door, this is the one I’ll do, because it addresses so many areas at once.
Not only does it help me to stretch out my hands, it elongates my arms, opens up my shoulders, helps me to lengthen my spine, and stretches out my legs. And with both my hands and my feet touching the earth, it’s very grounding. It also allows my for my ribcage to fully open up so I can take some deep, rich, nourishing breaths.
Upon exploring your way into your next Downward Facing Dog, consider building it with these points in mind:
Spread out your fingers and ground through your hands (if this hurts your hands, then add a little gripping action with your fingertips to alleviate some of the pressure; if it hurts your wrists, consider rolling up a hand towel and placing it underneath your wrists)
Lengthen your arms, and traction your shoulder-blades down your back allowing them to broaden at the same time, and feel length and space open up in your neck.
Release your neck, letting your head hang like a melon while you look toward your navel, or toward your feet, allowing your neck to be long and relaxed.
Elongate your spine as you press your hips back, engaging your core (rather than letting your belly just hang out)
Lift your sits bones toward the sky, as you simultaneously press into your heels. If you do not yet have the flexibility in your legs, bend your knees so you can keep the stretch and the length in your arms, shoulders and spine, and over time let your heels move closer and closer to the earth.
Breathe deeply, and feel your body expanding and contracting around each full breath.
Explore what’s happening in your body. Move around inside of your downward facing dog—sway your hips from side to side, press into your heels one at a time, holding the stretch in each leg long enough to feel something happening. Becoming aware of your ribcage, let your heart expand and open in all directions.
Take several deep breaths here, and notice as your spine aligns. This is a great asana for opening up your channel, allowing energy to move freely and unencumbered through you as you breathe. Enjoy the way that feels.
I’ve found that Downward Facing Dog is not usually a favorite for newbies to yoga—like most yoga poses in the beginning, it can be awkward, uncomfortable and difficult to enjoy. As I often say, “embrace the awkwardness, and know that it doesn’t last forever.” For the students that stick with it, they start to feel their bodies changing and opening up, and an appreciation for the benefits of Downward Facing Dog starts to bloom. There is usually a moment in time, if we stick with it, that a shift happens and suddenly this becomes one of our favorites. And in my experience, that is right around the time the love affair with yoga really begins.
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