Let’s face it: yoga is more commonplace than ever before. And, as what happens when something is everywhere, sometimes the nuances of it get lost.
Down dog is a great pose. It is also super complicated from an anatomical point of view. And it’s hard. It is worth performing regular maintenance on your down dog to catch bad habits before they take root and clear up questions. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from Sarah Trelease: all instructions have expiration dates.
1. Sometimes, less is more. Do less down dog. Yes, less. Just like runners need to build their base mileage when they are training for a marathon, yogis need to build fierce strength before they can introduce a ton of down dog into their practice regularly. Working the actions of down dog elsewhere, while not bearing weight, are key to a strong pose.
2. Get stronger. Down dog requires a delicate and masterful balance of strength and flexibility in the already precariously balanced shoulder joint.
Learn what muscles work in down dog and get them stronger. Not just when we make you get them stronger in class, but at home and in the gym. Continuity is key.
And stretch out those wrists! With all the sitting and typing and texting we do, show your wrists a little love before you bear weight on them in down dog. Even if you don’t knit, here are great wrist stretches that are easy to do every day.
3. Use your legs. This is one of Angela’s favorite things to say because it is simple and true. The legs are bigger, stronger and heavier than the arms. Ditto the hips when comparing them to the shoulders. The legs are the ballast for this pose. When the leg muses work in unison, they will draw the hips up, allowing the lower spine to be anchored so it can find a healthy stretch.
Watch for flexy knees, lazy quads, and checked out heels.
I know, those pesky hamstrings. But those are just one set of leg muscles.
4. Dunking into the joints is the lowest common denominator in your practice. You deserve better and so does your body. It is so easy in class to skip the work and rely on the flexibility of the joints to take you “deeper” – but this is a fake depth. Just like a fake Rolex is a total waste of money, using joints instead of muscles in down dog is a waste if energy and time. Make the effort of getting stronger and your body will respond in no time.
5. Ask questions. Most yoga teachers I know would love to talk with you about down dog. Like, really. They love yoga; that is why they teach it. Ask questions before or after class. Or during. We all learn in different ways and our teachers can be great facilitators in helping us learn and process the instructions.
To read more of Steph Creaturo’s work, click here.