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If you have ever done a yoga class, you will have come across downward facing dog. Often described as a stretch for the hamstrings, down dog has far more benefits than that. Performed well, down dog is truly an excellent pose to lengthen the hamstrings and posterior legs but it can also be a terrific pose in which to lengthen the spine, develop awareness of the hip hinge and positioning of the pelvis, strengthen the deep spinal muscles, lengthen latissimus dorsi, strengthen upper trapezius and improve over-head range of movement. 

downward dogWhen the pose is performed to target flexibility only (in particular the desire to get the heels to the ground), much of the benefit is lost. It can result in adverse effects too, as those with more inflexible bodies scrunch the neck and round the lower back in an effort to straighten the legs and those with rather bendy bodies already merely flex the shoulders and extend the spine and don’t develop the strength and body awareness that this pose can so effectively give. The following instructions have been simplified and do not give the finer details of this pose as taught in yoga, such as the activation of the bandhas, the cueing of breath, slight rotations in the femur and upper arms, etc. It is possible to combine all of those elements as well to really develop finesse in this pose but the instructions here are primarily focussed on developing postural awareness around the pelvis and hips the to facilitate length in the spine, strength in the legs and core control. 

Directions | Downward Dog

  • Start in a 4 point kneel, toes tucked under. Sit back towards the heels and stretch the hands further forward a little further if required in order to feel a lengthening from hips to fingers and a somewhat flat back. This will give approximately the right distance between the hands and feet to achieve optimal lengthening of the spine. 
  • Press the floor away by pressing through the base of the fingers rather than rest weight into the heels of the hands
  • From the squatted position of the legs, send the hips back and up, keeping the length between the hips and hands. Do not rock the shoulders forwards over the hands as you come up. This will develop more strength in the legs and upper back
  • Keep the knees bent initially so that you can reach the pelvis away from the hands, tilting the pelvis slightly anteriorly. It will feel as though you are attempting to arch or hollow your back as you do this. The tension in the hamstrings will tend to pull the pelvis posteriorly and round the lower back so the rotation of the pelvis is to counter that. This will strengthen the deep spinal muscles of the lumbar and sacrum and create a flat back appearance rather than a rounded back
  • Slowly start to straighten the legs but only as far as your flexibility will allow. Forcing the heels to the ground too soon will jeopardise the lovely lengthening of the spine
  • Lift the breast bone up slightly away from the floor to open up around the shoulders and neck
  • Breath for 3 to 5 full rounds of breath and lower down in the same way you came up

N.B. The pelvic tilting action performed here is the same movement that can help those who slouch in sitting to sit upright more easily and without strain. Practice the pelvic tilting movement in supine or sitting to develop awareness.

Melbourne Natural Therapies
Downward Dog
Myotherapy Melbourne