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Downward Dog

GiventoFLY2010-07-05 00:29:11 +0000 #1
Downward dog seems to be one of the major need-to-know yoga poses, however it also seems to be one I cannot manage well. I find myself dreading it in my daily practice. The way my arms and legs are positioned in the pose are fine however I tend to curve my back and end up with what feels like plank pose with my hips in the air. My downward dog is never quite "perfect." Can anyone help me with this? Thank you.
Hubert2010-07-05 00:44:42 +0000 #2
When a pose is very uncomfortable to hold, than it should not be forced. The obstacle must be determined, (weakness in muscle, stiffness, reduced flexibility of a joint) and targeted with other specific poses. The other way is to sightly modify the pose. In case of downward dog, (Adho Mukha Svanasana) this means doing it with heels up. This way a correct position of the back, shoulders, arms can be achieved.

In my case, the obstacles are tight hamstrings and calf, and I do the pose with heels up, and focus on my back, this being a comfortable position; than I do it with heels down, with focus on the legs, this one being very challenging for me, with great tension in the back of the legs, so I keep it just for a few seconds.

Of course without seeing what you do, it is hard to give advice, even if I would be a teacher, what I am not.
InnerAthlete2010-07-05 01:10:26 +0000 #3
Not managing a pose well and dreading it may be different points on the same continuum. It may also be that one facilitates the other. That is that the difficulty in "managing" the pose is the catalyst for the dread.

From what I am able to gather from your very brief description I would recommend bending your knees in the pose such that the focus is the line of your spine from the sacrum to the crown rather than the legs being straight or the heels being down. I use a childrens' sliding board as an analogy in class. The nectar that resides int he pelvis must smoothly slide down the spine until it pools in the thought center. Neither of these things is wrong (heels down, legs straight) but they are only truly appropriate when the student has found an awareness of the spine and can bring it into the body from the flesh of the back in integrity without straining.

When you bend the knees do press the front of the mat away from the back of the room thus bringing the shoulders in a line with the wrists and hips. If you are not able to do such a thing with the knees bent then the possibility exists that your shoulders are restricted as well (in addition to the hamstrings). In such a case it will take time and appropriate asana, lifestyle, and nutrition work to open that area of the body. Until then, the pose will be the pose it is now.

All that aside, it is always a primary function for the practitioner to find comfort in the pose. It is one thing to "not like" this pose or that pose and in that case you should be doing more of it. However not being able to locate or experience joy int he asana typically means the volume of it is turned up too high.
sarahy2010-07-05 01:28:01 +0000 #4

what helped me recently in this pose is broadening the back by making the armpits face each other (they won't- but i 'think' them in that direction). for me this opened the space between the shoulders and the neck and relieved tension in the neck and shoulders. when the armpits start facing in, the thumb and first finger may come off the mat, so remember that hands remain flat on the ground.

when you say that you feel like you're in plank position with your hips in the air do you also mean that your eyes are looking at your fingertips? if so, rather than looking 'up' drop the head so the ears are in-line with the arms. the yoga i practice has you gaze at the navel in this position, though this may put stress on your neck and shoulders, which could point to another 'challenge' area .

also, consider practicing this pose against a table or chair back or wall- place your feet on the ground, hip-width apart then place your hands flat against the table at hip to waist level, then slowly start to straighten the back (hips move back). on a clock face, your feet would be at 6 and your hands at 3, with a right angle at the hips. eventually you get to a downward dog-ish position, but with a different orientation and with less stress on the hamstrings and shoulders. this may relieve the tension/frustration of the pose and help you sort out where your challenges lie.

good luck.
buggirl2010-07-05 02:17:55 +0000 #5
Hi everybody,

I've been practising yoga for a few years and still find downward dog challenging! When I first started in Australia, I would go to to weekly classes and we didn't do nearly as much downward dog as I do now in classes in the US. I wonder if this is a cultural thing?!?

I asked my new teacher after class today about downward dog, and the feeling in my lower back. She explained that it's to do with hip stability, that I should bend my knees a little to feel the different angle in my hips, and that I will improve over time.

Does anybody else experience this, even after years of practising?

Any suggestions for poses to improve hip stability, and hence feel more comfortable in downward dog?

I also find that it takes a lot of energy in my shoulders in this pose, but I think that feeds back into the old hip stability issue.

It's so interesting to me that such a seemingly simple pose that we do so often should present so many different challenges. That's the joy of yoga!

Nichole2010-07-05 02:50:56 +0000 #6
Hey there,

I think it is definitely a cultural thing, just as doing as much asana as westerners do compared to Indians is a cultural difference.

Hip stability or instability is so vague and nonspecific; this could mean so many different things which makes it very difficult to address.

When your teacher offered her thoughts that it was an issue with your hips, did this ring true for you?

Is this where you experience the issue?

In my training we have people touch the area of their concern. This moves us into discernment and then the area of concern, for example, becomes the retus femoris rather than just my thigh. This specificity is needed to address the issue properly.

Can you describe what you are feeling in the low back?

pain? weakness? numbness? tingle?

does it change your breath?

does this occur elsewhere? like climbing stairs? or if you march in place, lifting your knees to about hip level?

Please give us as much info as you can of your experience. We are likely to be able to offer a better recommendation if you do. Let's get to the bottom of this

xela2010-07-05 01:54:26 +0000 #7
Down dog is actually a very hard posture, IMO. Don't feel badly that you're having trouble!
buggirl2010-07-05 00:50:51 +0000 #8

Thanks for your replies, and the knowledge that downward dog is actually a challenging position. It's difficult to gauge how other people in the class are feeling when my head is upside down!

The comment from my teacher did ring true. I've been having other non-specific issues in my hips and always find sitting in dandasana or sitting cross-legged uncomfortable. I tried doing lots of hip-openers and that just seemed to exacerbate the problem, so now I'm focusing on lower back and psoas (as suggested by a doctor).

In some ways, it's actually more rewarding to find difficulty with a pose - that makes me think about why it's difficult and how my body fits together. Yoga for my brain as well as my body!

Thanks again,





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