Downward-facing dog is a rejuvenating yoga pose that strengthens the back and can increase flexibility. The pose, or asana, is an important part of the sun salutation, a sequence that enlivens the body and is often used to begin yoga routines. Downward-facing dog is a simple position but requires the correct balance of weight in the body to be held correctly.
The pose, correctly called adho mukha svanasana is an excellent practice pose for all skill levels. To achieve the most beneficial posture, it is best to start on your hands and knees. Keep your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees right under your hips, and try to balance your weight equally across the whole body. Hands should be shoulder-width apart with the fingers spread; feet should be hip-width apart. With a deep exhalation of breath, push your hips straight up into the air, until both legs and arms are straightened.
Downward-facing dog can be held for several minutes, but it takes practice to keep yourself in the correct form. To keep pressure off of your wrists, press into your fingertips. Your body will be in an upside-down V, so try to visualize both your arms and legs pushing energy upwards to where they intersect at your hips. In the most beneficial form, you should feel as if someone is pulling your hips back and up, pressing your lower back down. Try having a partner wrap their hands or a belt under your hips and leaning their weight back, pulling you into a deeper stretch.
Once in the correct position, take deep breaths and try to relax into the pose. Ideally, downward-facing dog should stretch your lower back, open your chest, and stretch your arms. If you are able to lower your heels to the ground, you will also get a nice stretch along the calves and hamstrings. Remember to keep your core muscles tightened to maintain stability in the body, as well as improve strength through your abdominal region.
After maintaining your downward-facing dog pose for several breaths, try relaxing into child’s pose. Lower your knees to the ground and push your hips back so that you are resting on top of your feet. Let the arms stretch forward and attempt to place your forehead on the ground. This position is wonderfully comforting, and will give your body a chance to relax from the intense stretching of downward-facing dog.
If you have never tried yoga before, consider attending at least one class. Many gyms and community centers offer drop-in classes to help you learn and master the basics of yoga. Don’t be afraid to ask the teachers to critique your pose, and don’t be embarrassed if they correct your positions. Good form will greatly increase the benefits of yoga, and you will soon be on your way to better flexibility and strength.