As promised, this month we begin our excursion into the wild and wonderful land of Adho Mukha Svanasana, or Downward Facing Dog. A ubiquitous posture that is called out by hundreds of thousands of yoga teachers every day. It is one of those postures that most teachers will assume you know how to do but students are often left wondering how do it so that the arms and shoulders are not fatigued, how do I get my hips up high enough and how in the world will I ever get my heels down on the floor?
When I first began studying yoga, a teacher would mention Downward Facing Dog (also known as Downward Dog, Down Dog or even Dog Pose for short) was a resting posture. We beginners scoffed at the idea that anyone could get rest in such a difficult posture. But after many classes of being asked to practice Down Dog and many rounds of fine tuning over the years, it has become one of my favorite postures for stretching my tired back, stretching the backs of my legs if I have been sitting too long and even provides me with a sense of empowerment, that yes, I really can hold myself up with my own two arms!
This week we will learn all about internal and external rotation of the arms and which one is necessary for holding the posture safely and comfortably and you will learn some simple home practice exercises that will quickly build the strength and stability to transform your Downward Facing Dog.
Internal & External Rotation of the Arms
Begin seated cross-legged on floor, folded blanket or bolster.
With the arms in external rotation, lift the parallel arms forward, making sure the shoulder blades are being drawn down the back. Continue raising the arms over the head slowly without shrugging the shoulders. As soon as you feel the upper arm beginning to roll in towards the neck, stop raising the arms. (This action is technically called flexion of the shoulder although many of us teachers call it extending the arms over the head).
Seated Lateral Bend
Begin seated cross-legged and place the left hand on the floor beside the hip. Inhale and raise the right arm diagonally across the body and reach it overhead to the left. Bend the left elbow towards the body and keep that shoulder released down the back to help support the weight of the body. Keep both sit bones grounded into the floor. Exhale and return to the center. Repeat to both sides 5-10 times with the breath.
Therapeutics: Opens side rib cage and facilitates breath throughout the torso. Gently warms up the low back and shoulders.
Extended Puppy Pose
Begin on the hands and knees, feet flexed. Reach the hands forward and press the hips back so that they are directly over the heels. Extend through the sides of the body being careful not to arch to back.
Therapeutics: Provides traction for the spine and warms up the shoulders.
Shoulder Extension w/ Strap
Sit or stand with strap held behind back with palms facing back. Keep arms body’s distance apart or wider. Keep chest wide and shoulders drawing down the back and use the triceps to extend the straight arms back away from the body. Hold for a few seconds, then release and repeat 3-5 times.
Therapeutics: Stretches the front of the rotator cuff and opens the chest.
Rotator Cuff Stretch w/ Strap
Sit or stand with strap in right hand, raise right arm over the head keeping the right arm externally rotated.
Variation I: Turn left palm back to internally rotate the arm and press the arm back, bend the left elbow and find the strap with the left hand behind the back. Use the right arm to pull up on the strap, bringing the left hand further up the back, be sure to relax the left shoulder.
Variation II: Bend the right elbow and pull down on the strap with the left hand until the arm is straight. Keep the right elbow close to the head and use the head to press back gently into the arm. Hold for 5 breaths. Release and repeat both variations to the opposite side.
Therapetuics: Stretches the arms in internal and external rotation.
Inhale as you raise arms out to sides. Exhale and cross right elbow over left, and hug opposite shoulders. Draw shoulders down the back and lift elbow points. Hold for 10 breaths then repeat with other arm on top.
Therapeutics: Stretches the rhomboids which connect the shoulder blades to the spine.
Downward Facing Dog
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Begin on all fours with hands slightly forward of shoulders. Turn toes under and lift knees off floor. Keep shoulders wide and palms flat, press thighs and sit bones back, scooping belly in.
Hold 1-3 minutes, release into Child's Pose.
Therapeutics: Strengthens arms and shoulders, stretches back of torso and legs
Place two blocks on mat, one perpendicular to mat on lowest height, the other parallel to mat on middle height. The blocks should be 4-6 inches away from each other. Sit facing away from blocks and lie back placing shoulder blades on low block, back of head on high block. Place arms on floor with palms facing upwards.
Therapeutics: Opens the heart and relaxes the trapezius muscles of the upper back