Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My Yoga Pose For the Month - Downward Dog

From this month onwards, I will choose a pose to be My Yoga Pose of the Month. For the month of March, the pose is Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana).

We do the Downward Dog many times during a yoga class as it is used as a transitional pose for some of the poses as well as a resting pose. Most of us take this pose for granted and quite often the pose is not done properly for us to reap the benefits from it. Do you know that the Downward Dog is a great shoulder and chest opener? For most of us who are constantly bending forward as we hunched over our computer and office desk, the Downward Dog helps to stretch and lengthens the back shoulders and front body. The Downward Dog pose also helps to build strength in the upper arms and stretch the hamstrings, calves and ankles. As the Downward Dog is a mild inversion, it helps to increase blood flow to the brain and eyes. The pose also teaches you a lot about awareness and offers valuable knowledge that enhance the rest of your practice.

1. Come to your hands and knees with the wrists underneath the shoulders, hands about shoulder-width apart, knees underneath the hips. On an inhalation, lift your hips up towards the roof and, on an exhalation, lower your heels gently towards the floor, straightening out your legs.

2. Look at your hands – they should be shoulders-width apart and your wrist line should be parallel to the front edge of your mat. Check that your fingers are spread apart and the middle fingers should point straight ahead. Spread your weight evenly through your hands and feet and move your chest towards your thighs.

3. Lengthen your spine by raising your hips and pushing your tailbone upwards, while lengthening the crown of your head towards the floor. Tuck in your chin and gaze towards your navel or knees. Draw in your abdominal muscles towards the spine.

4. Outwardly rotate the upper arms to create space between your shoulders and ears. Move the shoulder blades away from the ears towards the hips. Relax your head and neck.

5. Ensure your feet are hip width apart and parallel, with toes pointing straight ahead. Rotate the thighs inward, keep the tail high and sink your heels to the floor. Try lifting your toes a little off the floor to get a real sense of extension through the backs of your legs.

6. Hold here for five deep, even breaths then release into child’s pose by resting the tailbone back on the heels, bringing the arms and hands back by your side, palms up, and resting your forehead on the mat.

Some points to note:

• Pay attention to your hips - they should tilt so that your back is flat, not rounded.

• Don't forget the quadriceps - your front thigh muscles. Tighten those muscles to lift the kneecaps. Spread your buttocks as you are tilting your hips - this will help the inner thighs move into alignment.

• Your armpits should face the floor and your arms should feel like they are lengthening and the torso should be lifting away from your arms. Your elbows should squeeze in towards one another.

• Instead of taking all the weight on the heels of the hands, press down with the knuckles where the fingers join the palms. Stretch the fingers forward and at the same time visualize lifting the forearms up and out of the wrists.

• If you have tight hamstrings, bend the knees slightly. By doing this, the weight of the pelvis can move up and back and the arms can stay straight and long. Thereby the whole back body still gets lengthened and as the hamstrings and calves loosen up from continual practice, you can slowly start to work into straighter legs.

• If you are very flexible, try not to let the rib cage sink towards the floor creating a sinking spine. Draw the ribs in to maintain a flat back.

"Be on your hands and knees with your shoulders directly above your wrists and then just lean back a bit onto your knees. Make sure your hands are set evenly, with your fingers spread, and lift the heels of your hands, keeping the ring of the knuckles and all fingers firmly pressed into the floor. When you do this, you should feel the muscles of your forearms charge up. Lower the heels of your hands, but keep that sense of the muscles of the forearms pulling up from the wrists. Be sure your elbows are in line with your head, and pull back strongly with your thighs. The weight for Downward Dog should be carried in the thighs - all of this should take weight off the wrists and start to strengthen them, rather than allowing them to be the weight-bearing victims of the pose. If you get it just right, it can feel like you are just floating on your hands, and standing firmly in your legs without much pressure on the wrists at all." (excerpt taken from article 'In Praise of Down Dog')

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