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Downward Dog, or Adho Mukha Svanasana, is perhaps the most commonly practiced yoga posture. Vinyasa teachers especially love it and often use Downward Dog as a warm-up pose, a resting pose, an inversion, and a link between nearly every standing posture—but easy it is not!
Downward Dog can be quite complex, which is why it’s imperative that you master its alignment. As all yogis will come into this pose time and time again, it should be done right so that it doesn’t place unnecessary strain on any area of the body. Here are six alignment tips to improve your Downward Dog.
1. Master hand-to-foot distance
Figuring out just the right distance between your hands and feet can be tricky. If they’re too close together, you’ll pitch too far forward into your hands. If they’re too far apart, you won’t be able to find much length in your spine. If only our mats were permanently marked for Downward Dog.
- Find your proper placement by beginning in Child’s pose with your thighs touching and stretch your hands forward until your arms lift from the floor.
- Bring your hands as wide as your shoulders and spread your fingers. Activate and engage your arm muscles.
- Curl your toes under, lift your hips, and then push back into Downward Dog on an exhalation. This is your perfect hand-to-foot distance.
While you won’t be able to come into Downward Dog from Child’s pose each and every time, do it enough and muscle memory will help you to subconsciously find this placement in the future.
2. Get your hands right
There are lots of funky things you can do with your hands that could lead to injury—hands turned too far in or too far out, fingers bent, or hands cupping the floor. With so much weight bearing on our hands and wrists, alignment must be spot-on.
- Check out your hand alignment in Downward Dog. Spread your fingers wide to distribute your weight evenly across your hands.
- Make your middle fingers nearly parallel to the sides of your mat and make the creases of your wrists parallel to the front of your mat.
- Press each finger into the floor. Give extra focus to the thumb and index fingers, which tend to lift up. This is the most stable part of the hand, so it should be firmly planted to protect the wrists.
3. Wrap the outer arms in
There’s a lot going on with the arms in Downward Dog. When practiced properly, this pose opens the shoulders, strengthens the wrists, and widens the upper back. To get the right alignment, learn how to both internally and externally rotate the arms.
- Lift into the posture from Child’s pose. Press into your thumbs and index fingers to internally rotate your forearms and draw them closer to one another.
- With your forearms moving inward, bend your elbows to the sides to externally rotate your upper arms. The insides of your elbows will face more forward as you create space around your shoulders.
- Keeping this external rotation, straighten your arms again without locking your elbows.
4. Push your weight back
In a well-aligned Downward Dog, you’ll feel lightness as your weight lifts from the hands and becomes more evenly distributed between hands and feet.
- To get this feeling, push the knuckle pads, index fingers, and thumbs into the floor.
- Bend your knees slightly so that you can tilt your sitting bones upward.
- Then inch your hips up and back as if someone was pulling your hips toward the sky behind you. Feel the space and length this creates in the sides and spine.
5. Align your ears between your upper arms
Proper head alignment ensures that you don’t put stress on your neck. If your head is lifted too much, you’ll crunch your cervical vertebrae. If you let your head hang loose to check out what Downward Dog looks like on those behind you, you’ll likewise compromise your neck.
- Align your ears in between your upper arms.
- Find the sweet spot where your neck isn’t crunched back or strained forward, but feels like it’s comfortably aligned with the rest of your spine.
6. Don’t worry about your heels
It’s not important if your heels actually touch the floor. It’s the action of your heels moving downward that matters. If you force your heels to the ground, you will compromise the length in your spine and likely end up rounding your upper back.
- Worry less about that heel-to-floor contact and focus more on pointing your sitting bones upward. Bend your knees to make this adjustment if you have to.
- Then slowly straighten your legs as you allow your heels to sink toward the floor. Maybe they’ll touch, or maybe they’ll be inches away, but this is not a measurement of Downward Dog mastery. It’s a matter of hamstring flexibility and with enough yoga practice, your heels will inevitably find the floor.