When you’re newer to the practice, Downward-Facing Dog looks like a pose where you are holding yourself up with your arms only. Actually, there’s more to it than that.
When all the players—your legs, hips, back, arms, and shoulders—actively participate, there is actually minimal amount of weight on your wrists in this pose, and it can actually feel like a place where you can hang out comfortably for several breaths.
Resting Pose? Really?
In the early years of my practice, I found it particularly annoying that many of my teachers would call Downward-Facing Dog a restful pose. I would feel anything but rested in the pose.
My shoulders tensed, my arms shook with effort, and my wrists ached almost every time I moved to it from Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) or Cobra (Bhujangasana). Down Dog was a crappy place for me to be, but since it was a popular pose I knew I wouldn’t be able to avoid it.
So I practiced more and listened to teachers’ takes on how to align in the pose, so I could feel it out on my own. I knew there had to be a way this pose would be comfortable.
Let There Be Light for Your Dog!
Truth be told, I’m still working to find my most strengthening and vibrant Downward-Facing Dog, but I’ve come a long way from the discomfort of my early years. And there are a few tricks I’ve learned and been taught to help ease the pressure off the wrists in this pose.
Try these out on the mat next time, and may your Down Dogs feel light and happy!
1. Shift the weight off the wrists toward the legs.
You can take weight off your wrists by bending your knees generously and pressing your hips further back until your hands feel a little lighter. It’ll look like you’re crouching. Keep the weight shifting towards your legs as you lift your butt up and gradually straighten the legs, without locking the knees.
Your heels don’t have to be flat against the mat, but do try to keep the front of your pelvis tilted forward and tailbone moving away from the top of the spine to elongate your back (big plus!).
2. Ground the pose by firming the legs.
Your heels should be directly behind the widest part of your foot so that you do not see them when you gaze between your legs. Hug your shins in toward each other as though you were trying to squeeze a block between them. This will encourage a slight inward rotation through the legs.
Firm your outer thighs in a slight external rotation and lift your knee caps upward as you press your quadriceps back. Don’t lock your knees! It’ll feel as though someone is gripping you by the hips and pulling back.
3. Create space for your chest and shoulders by firming the outer arms.
Firming the outer arms and wrapping your triceps toward the floor (i.e. external rotation) creates room for your front body and shoulders. It will feel like you’re trying to screw the cap off of jar, counterclockwise, but your hands will stay grounded on the floor.
This helps broaden your collarbones and reduce tension around the shoulders. Let you ears line up with your arms.
4. Energize your upper body by activating your hands.
Engaging your hands, even your fingertips and the bases of your fingers, works to energize your upper body. Imagine your hands like suction cups as you try to distribute the weight evenly throughout. Ground the thumbs and index fingers.
Your hands should be rooted but not completely flat against the floor, so the center of your palm can lift; this engages what some of my teachers call Hasta Bandha, or a hand lock.
by Zainab Zakari