Downward Dog pose builds strength in your arms and shoulders, lengthens your spine, activates your hips and core, and elongates your hamstrings and calves. Plus, it’s an inversion, which draws blood to your brain, helping both to calm and energize.
First, lie on your stomach, hands under your shoulders and elbows in at sides. On an inhale, press into your hands and engage your abs to lift your torso off the mat. Tuck your toes under, and ground through the ball mounts of your toes as you lift your knees off the mat. From here, exhale, press into your hands and feet, and point your hips up toward the sky.
Ground into your hands and feet, pressing into the tips and knuckles of your fingers and toes. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart, your wrist creases parallel to the front edge of your mat, and your middle fingers parallel to each other. Lengthen the sides of your torso. Wrap your shoulder blades toward your underarms, and lengthen your spine toward the floor. Point your sits bones up toward the sky and imagine drawing stable, grounding energy up through your hands and arms into your body. Melt your heart through your chest toward your thighs. Pull your navel in toward your spine and lengthen your tailbone toward the ceiling to keep your lower back neutral. Engage your quads to pull your kneecaps up, inhale as you lift up on your tiptoes, and exhale while gently lowering your heels any amount toward the floor. Your feet should be hip-width apart. Draw more of that grounding energy into your feet, up through your legs into your hips. Enjoy your strength and stability. Take your gaze to your navel or a single spot between your toes. Drink your breath in and release your tension with each exhale.
To come out of the pose, bend your knees and lower your body until your knees are resting on your mat. Alternatively, step one foot forward at a time and roll up from the base of your spine until you’re standing up straight. Your head should be the last part of your spine to come up.
Students with tight shoulders, turn your hands out a bit toward the outer corners of your mat, or open your hands a bit wider than shoulder width. If you have tight hamstrings, keep your knees bent as you continue to lengthen your spine. Also, to take a more relaxing restorative version of Downward Dog, rest your head on a block or bolster. Resting your head in this pose can help to calm anxiety and relax your mind. Just make sure your support is at the right height and distance to prevent you from jamming your neck to avoid injury.
Instructor Amanda Brizic says lots of students struggle with wrist issues; pressing into your knuckles and fingertips will help protect your joints. “That grounding of the hand is where it all starts,” she says. Also, keep your neck relaxed. Beginners have a tendency to look forward or to hunch their shoulders toward their head, crunching the neck. “Draw your shoulder blades down, away from the ears,” says Amanda, “hug the triceps in, and remember: long neck.”
If you’re looking for a greater challenge then Adho Mukha, consider Three-Legged Downward Dog. Raise one standing leg behind you until your leg is parallel with your hip. Extend out through your heel and engage your core to raise your leg. There’s a tendency to collapse into one shoulder, so press evenly into both hands to keep your shoulders parallel. Also, don’t let your lifted hip spin out. Make sure to keep your hips parallel, even if this means lowering your leg. Use the strength of your core to hold your leg up. Take each leg up for five breaths before returning to Downward Dog.