The downward dog pose in yoga is challenging for beginners and more experienced practitioners alike.
For the first few years of practicing yoga I would almost always ask the teacher after class for tips on my alignment in downward dog. Interestingly it's also been one of the yoga poses that most students ask me about when teaching. You might have also thought or asked some of these questions...
How long should I hold downward dog? Why do I struggle with downward dog. Help! My downward dog looks like a plank. Can you give me a modification for downward dog?
So many questions and concerns about one of the most common yoga postures that is also often referred to as a resting pose.
In this blog I’d like to share a step-by-step approach to improve help improve downward dog. Instead of trying to cover all the alignment techniques within the downward dog pose I’ll be breaking down how you can practice five different yoga poses to help with your downward dog.
Want to jump straight into a guided practice? Practice along with my free YouTube video of 5 yoga poses to improve your downward dog.
5 Poses to Improve Downward Dog
The cues and alignment tips shared in the below five yoga poses are particularly helpful to focus on when you’re working on your downward dog form.
Make sure you try these out and practice them before your downward dog to get the most benefits!
(1) Child Pose | Balasana
Child pose is a great preparation and warm up to practice before downward dog pose. It allows you to lengthen through your spine like you would in downward dog.
You can work towards lengthening and activating your arms by pressing your palms down, spreading your fingers and allowing your elbows to be lifted. At the same time experiment with drawing your hips down and back towards your heels.
Throughout the posture try to breathe slow and steadily through your nose. Establishing the regular breathing practice you’ll want to continue with as you move towards the downward dog.
(2) Cat / Cow Pose | Bitilasana Marjaryasana
A few rounds of moving dynamically through cat / cow pose can be another helpful step towards downward dog. Creating space in your shoulders, mobility in your spine and strength in your core.
Spread your fingers wide and ground through your palms and particularly your index finger and thumb. This will help in protecting the wrists—something also helpful for the next couple of postures.
Follow the movement of your breath as you arch on the inhale and round on the exhale. Focus on keeping the belly a little firm throughout and particularly drawing the belly in as you round your spine. An action that will be helpful in your downward dog.
(3) Plank Pose | Phalakasana
The plank pose is helpful to learn how to active and lengthen your arms, torso and legs—all important actions that you can apply to your downward dog posture.
You can work on strengthening your arms, shoulders and core. As well as spreading your fingers to help protect your wrists.
If holding the plank for several breaths feels challenging at first try coming in and out of the pose several times. Dropping the knees down to the ground on your exhale and then lifting the knees back up to your plank on your inhale.
(4) Standing Forward Bend | Uttanasana
Another important element of downward dog in yoga is to work on stretching your hamstrings and lift your hips up. You can do this by practicing a standing forward bend and seeing if you can lean a little towards your toes as you lift your hips up.
It’s quite common to feel tight hamstrings in the standing forward bend and downward dog. To help ease the stretch so it’s not too intense you can bend the knees a little and activate your thighs.
Once you’ve found your position in the pose start exploring your breath and allowing slow steady breaths to come in and out of your nose. Easing into lengthening your spine on your inhale, and folding a little more forward on your exhale.
(5) Downward Dog | Adho Mukha Svanasana
After these other preparation poses one of the best ways to get more familiar with downward dog is by doing downward dog! See if you can apply the actions and techniques that you learnt in the other postures and bring more awareness to your position in downward dog.
Spread your fingers wide and ground through your palms to protect your wrists. Activate and lengthen your arms as you also lengthen your entire spine.
Lift your hips upwards and a little back as you draw your belly inwards. Feeling free to bend the knees a little if you need to maintain the length in your spine and weight drawing back away from your arms and towards your legs.
And then see if you can stay in the pose for at least five slow and regular breaths.
Tips for practicing downward dog for beginners
Give yourself time to get familiar with downward dog. The pose is more challenging than you might think since it requires bringing awareness to your entire body, as well as working on strength and flexibility.
If you’re feeling any wrist or shoulder pain try practicing for a while the poses I suggest above to prepare for downward dog. Or start with just doing downward dog for one breath and build up gradually to more breaths.
If you’re finding it hard to know when you follow the guidance if you’re doing downward dog correctly you could ask your yoga teacher for guidance. Or take a picture or video of yourself in the pose and see how your form looks (as well as how it feels).
In the end the goal isn’t to find the perfect downward dog, but to find the version of the pose that feels right for your body. And at the same time know that you’re focusing on the right elements to over time improve your technique and get the benefits from the downward dog pose.
Good luck and happy practicing!
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