Downward dog help


#1

So I have done yoga off and on for a couple years now. I’m a student so unfortunately my routine is spastic depending on my work load. This being my last quarter in college, I’ve found myself with the time to do yoga everyday again. Things are going great, but my downward dog looks terrible. It always has. I am not sure if this particular pose just takes a lot of time to work on, or if I am doing it wrong. (I am attaching a picture so you can see.) In the past I’ve focused on being able to bring my feet flat on the floor, but that is something I can do now. It is my hips/back that are awful. I can’t seem to get my back straight. So where should I go from here? Work on pushing my chest down and gradually wait for my body to become more flexible or what?

Thanks for the help! I am so excited I found this site :slight_smile:


#2

Welcome to the forum, it’s awesome to have you here :slight_smile: And that you for posting the picture, that’s mighty useful.

Downward facing dog is most definitely a challenging pose. Your pose doesn’t look terrible, it’s beautiful in a myriad of ways. I have no doubt that people will be along to give you all kinds of great pointers. I shall focus on just one as it’s something I have felt in my body and been working on for years now.

You mention you’ve been focusing on getting your feet flat to the floor. By the looks of it, was this accomplished by shortening your stance? You’d get into downward dog and then walk your feet in a little to get them flat on the ground?


#3

Thanks for the photo.

It’s your hamstrings that are tight. They are preventing your pelvis from tilting forward enough to move your lower back out of the rounded position that you see in the picture.

To improve, you want to do to things:

  1. Strengthen the muscles that lift your lower back forward into its natural lumbar curve.
  2. Stretch the hamstrings.

Start with doing Seated Staff Pose (Dandasana) and work on lifting the lower back up and forward as you keep the thighs down and flex the toes back. You may initially find this to be quite difficult and your back will tire easily, but keep working on it and the strength will come.

From Dandasana, move into a forward fold, keeping the length in the lower back. So you want to feel like you’re reaching your belly toward your toes and keeping the spine flat all the way up to your neck. You will feel this stretch primarily in your hamstrings.

You can also stretch one leg at a time, as in the videos below, which can be more effective…

http://www.doyogawithme.com/content/one-leg-folded-forward-bend

http://www.doyogawithme.com/content/reclining-hand-toe-sequence


#4

Yes, the photo is helpful. Thank you. The only thing is I can’t see your hands. This seemingly ease pose is really not so easy. There is a lot going on in just about every muscle in your body.

In addition to the above:
In down dog, the goal should not be to have heels touch the mat. Most students (and teachers) will never be able to do this. Yes, it’s how they show it. But I wouldn’t worry about that as you are compromising your alignment in your attempts to do so. As DoYogaWithMe suggests stretching your hamstrings you might also want to add Supta Padanguthasana which works the hips and hamstrings. Until you have more flexibility in your hamstrings, keep your knees bent in down dog with heels elevated off the mat. This allows you to get the appropriate stretch and benefit in this pose. With practice and time as your hamstrings lengthen, you can begin to straighten the knees. But don’t think of actually straightening the knees. Think of pushing the Quads back. I might also suggest to shorten the distance between your feet a bit. Feet should be aligned with the hips.

In addition to tight hamstrings and limited hip flexibility, you also need to consider the arms, upper back and shoulders. Fingers should be separated and pointing toward the short end of your mat with equal pressure on all finger pads and the palm. Just a bit more firming of the index finger and thumb. This will help rotate your arms in the correct position. By pressing firmly into the mat, you will internally rotate the forearm and the upper arm will naturally externally rotate. Your shoulder blades need to move to broaden thru the back and then slide them down your spine. This seems to be a hard movement for most students. But give it time. Just be conscious of this movement while doing the pose.

Hope this is of help to you!


#5

[QUOTE=lotusgirl;58337]
In addition to the above:
In down dog, the goal should not be to have heels touch the mat. Most students (and teachers) will never be able to do this. Yes, it’s how they show it.
I
Hope this is of help to you![/QUOTE]

LG has pointed something critical. When you focus on something secondary like getting the heels on the ground, you are losing the main focus. Try with the legs further back. and the back straight- its a bit rounded in the photo. dont worry about the heels.

Incidentally, are you doing this on a stand alone basis or part of Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar) ?


#6

Aaron,

Yes. How are you getting into the pose?

Hands on the floor, finger-tips inline with the toes on either side of the feet. Take a deeper step back with the first leg, and yes, don’t worry about heels to the floor, but place them closer together. You have to rotate your armpits downward, toward the floor. Drive your hips upward and lower your head. Look at your navel. Also, you want to feel an outward rotation at the heels (while keeping them parallel), counter-to the rotation in the shoulders and arms. You should feel your weight driving down the inside of the legs and out the heels while cranking those armpits down. Squeeze all the air out with your abs and ribs. Inhale abdomen first.

Let us know how it turns out. Send us another picture.

siva


#7

Hey everyone,
Thanks for all of the great input! I will start to incorporate the other poses into my yoga exercise routine and I will shift my focus to getting my legs stretched instead of having my feet flat on the ground. I am excited to get my downward dog into much better form :slight_smile:

As for now I get into the position, it is always in a sun salutation or vinyasa sequence. I do a video, so it just takes you through each pose. (That might be lame but I am not skilled enough to do it on my own yet.)

Thanks again for all of the input!!


#8

Hmmm, I have some adjustments to make as well. Good thread!


#9

So I had my boyfriend try and help me with my downward dog. I think that one of my big issues is that my hips and lumbar back are not flexible. I have a realllllly hard time getting my back flat. Do you know of any poses that can help strengthen my back and also poses that can help with hip flexibility? Or are these things that will just come with time as I practice my downward dog?
He mentioned that the “hinge” of my body is in my lower back, making it rounded as I try and do downward dog, where as in the pictures of other people the “hinge” is in the hips. Is this something that I can work on?


#10

Aaronitron,

Try a greater distance between your hands and feet. Just walk the hands away, toward the short end of your mat. See if that helps.

A question. Do you have difficulty getting your heel down in Virabhadrasana I (warrior I)? If so, tight calves could be part of the problem. If that is the case, you can try a wonderful stretch called “cat pulling its tail” which will stretch the hams and calves. Lay on you side and come up onto your forearm, supporting your head with your hand. Do not collapse through the shoulder area. Bring your top leg out in front so it forms a right angle with the bottom leg. The top leg should be in line with your hips. Place the sole of that foot on the floor. Bend the bottom leg knee and grab hold of the foot and bring it as close to the mat and your bottom buttock as possible. This is also a good quad stretch. The most intense stretch should be felt in the top leg hams and calf muscles. Hold for at least 1 minute. Repeat other side.

A rounded lower back is typically caused by tight hams and/or calf muscles. Take it slowly, little baby steps. Over time, as those muscles lenghten your down dog should improve.

As far as poses for hip flexibility:
Cat/cow
Baddha Konasana
Supta Padangusthasana
Trikonasana
Ananda Balasana
Lunges (holding them for several breaths)
Eka Pada Rajakapotanasana
Upavistha konasana and Urdhva Upavistha Konasana
Gomukhasana
Garudasana

And as DoYogaWithMe stated, Dhandasana will help with proper alignment of spine.

You can test your hamstring flexibility by laying on back with knees bent. Extend one leg at a time. Raised leg should be perpendicular to ceiling without the knee bending. If it is not perpendicular and/or the knee bent, you need to work on hamstring flexibility. If that is the case, start with milder stretches like prasarita padottanasana (standing wide leg forward bend) and if you need, place head or hands on a block for support. Janu Sirsasana and Utthita Parsvottanasana are also good hamstring stretches.

Hope this helps.


#11

[QUOTE=lotusgirl;58667]Try a greater distance between your hands and feet. Just walk the hands away, toward the short end of your mat. See if that helps.[/QUOTE]
I agree 100%

This is where I was going to go with my original response once my question was answered.

In my opinion, for many men, it’s not an issue of tight hamstrings but more of an issue of upper back and shoulder muscle tension and weakness.

For YEARS I have been told I have tight hamstrings based upon my downward facing dog. Thing is, they’re fine in other poses. I finally realized my biggest issue is that I collapse into my shoulders instead of elongating. It’s clear from your picture that you’re doing the same.

Aaron, try standing straight up. Now raise your hands towards the ceiling, locking your elbows, but keep your shoulders relaxed. Keeping that position, try and move your arm back behind you. Feel the pinch in your shoulder? Keep that same position but now move your back muscles so that your shoulders stay relaxed away from the ears but you reach higher towards the ceiling. NOW move your arms back behind you. Feel the extra range of motion and lack of pinch in the shoulder?

Take that same feeling in your body and do it in downward facing dog with a slightly wider stance and bend your knees if that helps, it’ll feel like you’re pushing away from your hands. If you’re like me, not only will it help with what you’re asking about, but as you increase the strength of those muscles so you can push away more, it’ll let you slowly bring your heels back to the floor.


#12

Hi Aaron,

You’ve got quite a bit of feedback going on here in this thread for your practice.
I have found that for most beginning students too much can be too much. It is for that reason, for the purposes of integration and simplicity that I focus with beginners on three things.

What I would suggest, and you are welcome to take it or leave it, is to transform your focus. Shift it away from the “heels to the floor” intention you had (for now) and instead work the line of the spine. In order to do this with the bod you are currently inhabiting, you will need to bend your knees. So this is point one. Bend your knees.

The second thing is two parts; press the front of your mat away from the back wall (as you are in the photo) and use that rooting to recoil your sitting bones into the top of the back wall.

The final component (for now) is to use the breath and allow the rounded portion of the thoracic spine to release/drop/relax into the body toward the skin of the front body.

In the meantime it would be helpful to direct some of your practice to opening the hamstrings, noting some poses deliver hamstring opening while others require it. I personally prefer Supta Padangusthasana and you’ll likely need a strap (and perhaps a teacher).

While I try not to disagree with the poobah of the forum above me, collapse in the shoulders leaves a hollow not a bump and that is not what I see in your photo. As for hamstring opening in other poses I can’t reply to that as said poses have not been mentioned:-)

gordon


#13

So I have been working on my downward dog. By having a better focus I think that I’m already seeing a lot of improvement!! But I’d love to hear what you all have to say? Am I looking better or are there still things that I haven’t addressed yet?

PS: I can take a better picture if that would help too, since you can’t actually see my hands/feet and that might be important.


#14

Hi Aaron,

Would you like to walk us through the changes you made? And is it possible to provide a picture looking back on your body from in front of your head?


#15

Basically I have been focusing a lot on strengthening my back and opening up my hips. Using some of the poses you all gave me like Dandasana, Baddha Konasana, Janu Sirsasana, and also the forward bend (I am not sure what the pose is called… I think someone mentioned it on here but I can’t remember exactly.) I’ve done all of the ones mentioned but those ones I’ve done the most I’d say.
In terms of my focus I am not concerned about getting my feet on the floor, but 1) keeping my back flat and long as I move into the post and 2) stretching my hamstrings back.


#16

Wow. Quite a change! This may sound odd, but the way I helped my body maintain downward dog was put on my alpine ski boots and skis (in my living room, much to the amusement of my family and dog) and get into the position. This locked my legs in place and I focused on my shoulders and spine. It worked for me.


#17

Thanks! I guess I should also mention (I forgot to before) that in my forward bend practice, I have been basically bending down as far as I can, keeping my back straight, and holding that. I am not sure if this counts as a yoga pose, but it has really helped in my downward dog.


#18

Aaron,

Wow! What an improvement! I would have one more suggestion and that is to allow you head to relax in between your arms.

So how does your down dog feel now compared to before?

Thanks for updating us!


#19

That looks better Aaron. Best to release your neck and not hold it as you are in both of these photos. The chin should not be in line with the upper arms as that takes the neck (cervical spine) out of alignment with the rest of the spine.


#20

Oh okay. I will definitely remember to keep my head down then! I am so excited that I am starting to see changes in already :slight_smile: