If you snickered at the title of this post because your experience of Downward Facing Dog pose is anything but resting, then you are not alone. Virtually everyone experiences some form of struggle with Downward Facing Dog, especially at first. It’s a challenging posture for a range of reasons. Most notably, it takes a lot of upper body strength to hold the posture for an extended amount of time. It also requires specific alignment and modifications to find a steady breath while in the pose. With a few alignment and modifications tips, you will be able to find a more stable posture so that you can more easily build your Down Dog endurance.
It all begins with your hands. When you lose the integrity of your hand position, you lose most of the foundation of the pose. That is, when the palms of your hand cup—or when the base knuckle of your index finger lifts off the ground—you lose your steady base and risk injuring your wrists. Instead, be sure to evenly ground all four corners of your palms, paying particular attention to the grounding of your index finger’s base knuckle. Maintain this even grounding during the entire pose and also while transitioning into and out of the pose. Spread your fingers wide apart to help support your body’s weight. At first, it will feel uncomfortable to maintain this activation in the hands, but over time you will come to love the stability it creates.
If you struggle with pain in your wrists, hold the pose for one or two breaths and then lower your forearms to the ground to take the weight off your wrists. Over time, you will likely find that you can maintain the full posture for longer and longer periods of time.
Next, you will stabilize your shoulders. Shoulder tension is almost ubiquitous, and it continues to occur in Downward Facing Dog. To relieve this tension and create space around your neck, move your shoulders away from each other and down your back. Feel your upper arms turning outward and drawing back into the shoulder sockets. This will create nice alignment of the shoulders while relying on the strong muscles of your back to help stabilize you.
From there, bring your awareness to your lower body. If you feel tightness in the backs of your legs and your heels are not on the ground, you likely have tight hamstrings and/or a sensitivity in your low back, both of which are very common. First of all, don’t feel as though you need to get your heels to the ground. For some people this may never happen, and that’s okay. Try bending your knees to relieve low back or hamstring pressure, and to find better alignment in your spine. This will also help to even out your body’s distribution of weight if it was off balance.
Once you have found the right alignment, you will want to use bandhas to create a stability that will help you build endurance in the pose. Uddiyana bandha (navel lock) and mula bandha (root lock) will help you find the inner strength required to maintain ease in Down Dog. By drawing your low belly into your spine while at the same time drawing up on your pelvic floor and maintaining the activation of these locks, you will be fully integrated in Downward Facing Dog.
Let your breath flow with ease as you settle into alignment, steadiness, and activation. Incorporate these tips every time you come into Downward Facing Dog and you will begin to understand what it means when we say Down Dog is a resting pose.