Although downward dog is a yoga exercise, it has become a popular movement used to warm up the body and stretch the back in all types of exercise routines. Unlike most yoga classes, however, performing this step at home or as part of another exercise program involves little to no instruction.
While this step is great to incorporate into your routine, performing it without mastering the correct form carries some risk. Yoga moves require flexibility, and if you’re still working on yours, jumping straight to a fully downward facing dog isn’t the best plan of attack. Instead, build your flexibility with modified versions and supplementary exercises to ease your way into full movement.
What does the downward facing dog do for the body?
Yoga has been shown to improve mental and physical health. In particular, the downward facing dog stretches the back, ankles, calves, and hamstrings. This movement is perfect for stretching the entire back of your body at once.
Downward facing dog is also helpful in relieving back pain, and performing consistently can help relieve stiffness and tension.
Like many other yoga poses, the dog downhill is a great move when you need to relax. It’s a great way to release the tension that builds up on a screen or desk after a long day.
The Most Common Mistakes People Make When Downing a Dog
Downward dog is a movement that requires great attention to detail. I’ve seen a lot of my customers who didn’t have enough space between their hands and feet. This tight position is not healthy for your back and can even cause strain, which we don’t expect from pain relieving exercise.
People also tend to get stuck in their butts while their legs are straight in downward facing dog. This puts your back in an unnatural shape while increasing the strain on the hamstrings. This can lead to muscle tension or increased back pain. To correct this error when walking a dog down, make the following adjustments:
- If you think the distance between your feet and hands is too tight, keep moving your feet backwards.
- Instead of tucking into your bum, bend your knees just a little so that you can tilt your hips forward.
- To keep your spine in a neutral position, focus on pulling your chest towards your hamstrings.
How to Make Modified Downward Facing Dog
Walking a dog down on the floor can be difficult. Since standing up is a more natural position, guiding the dog down this way can be of great help to master the movement.
Find a wall and stand about 3 feet away from it (far enough that you can fully extend your arms in front of you). Place your hands on the wall at shoulder level with your fingertips facing up. Lean your body against the wall at an angle while keeping your arms straight. Keeping your hands where they are, move your hips back as you begin to lower your head and torso towards the floor. Move down as far as you can and hold this position while pulling on your stomach and breathing slowly. Keep doing this exercise until you feel confident enough to bring it to the ground.
How to Properly Exercise the Downward Facing Dog
When you’re confident of your flexibility and ready to take the full step, follow these steps:
- Start in the plank position with your body in a straight line. Keep your arms straight while your palms press down on the mat.
- With your knees slightly bent, pull in your stomach and remember to pull your chest towards your thighs as you lift your bum towards the sky.
- Once you are raised to the final position, gently straighten your legs.
- Hold your head between your upper arms and relax your shoulders. Reach your legs long so that your heels are touching the floor. If this is not possible, focus on elongating your spine rather than forcing your feet to stand flat on the floor.
- Keep your whole body busy and focus on deep breathing.
4 exercises to help you run the dog down
When your body feels too tense to properly execute a downward facing dog, these movements will recruit similar muscles and improve flexibility in your back, hamstrings, and calves.
Downward facing dog requires a lot of hamstring flexibility. That is why I recommend practicing the forward fold beforehand. Start by standing straight. Make sure that your knees are not bending and begin to fold yourself at your hips as you extend your hands towards your feet. Get as close to the floor as you can and hold onto it.
This yoga pose focuses on straightening your ankles and calves, which allows you to keep sliding your heels towards the mat with the dog facing downwards. Squat in a wide position with your knees facing out. Put your hands together and push your knees further outward with your elbows. Hold this stretch for about 30 seconds.
Head to knee
The forward fold from head to knee also works in stretching the hamstrings. Start by sitting on the floor with one leg straight in front of you and the other bent and your foot resting on the opposite inner thigh. Bend at your hips, extend your hands toward your foot and your head toward your knees and hold them. Switch legs.
The child’s pose helps you focus on your breathing while straightening your shoulders and back. Get on all fours with your knees resting under your hips. Bend at your hips, put your bum back on your heels, and bring your chest to the mat. Extend your arms out in front of you with your palms flat on the mat. Try to put your forehead on the floor while extending your arms as far as possible.
Other ways to master the move: