Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Poses in Detail: Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog)


"Energy rightly applied and directed
can accomplish 
anything."
-Nellie Bly

(Image from Yogahut.ca)

Tomorrow, I'll be leading a workshop that details the alignment points for the "core" poses we practice often in yoga. By knowing what our proper form should be, it helps to prevent injuries when we begin to repeat the same poses in a more fluid or a faster practice. 

Here are the deets for Downward Dog, also known as Adho Mukha Svanasana. This is a Stabilizing Pose, as well as an Inversion, because the head drops below the hips.

Adho = Downward
Mukha = Face
Svana = Dog

Step-by-steps: 

1. Start in Table with the wrists beneath the shoulders and the knees beneath the hips.
2. Release into Extended Child Pose, lengthening the arms as you stretch the fingertips away from you and draw the upper arm bones back into the shoulder joint. Lengthen the spine and engage the bandhas fully (don't perform any bandhas if you are pregnant). 
3. Inhale back into Table, widening the base of support in the hands by spreading the fingers and pressing underneath the knuckles and into the web between the thumb and the index fingers. This helps to alleviate pressure off the wrist and engages the entire arm bone.
4. Rotate the upper arms outward, so the eyes of the elbows roll slightly forward. Draw the upper arm bones more deeply into the shoulder sockets and spread the shoulders apart as you press the lower arms toward each other.
5. On the next exhalation, curl the toes under and lift the sits bones into the air, keeping the knees bent and the heels off the floor.
6. Lengthen through the arms and the spine, creating a straight line of energy from the wrists to the pelvis. Keep the shoulders relaxed and the shoulder blades moving towards the pelvis.
7. Move the spine from flexion to extension as in Cat-Cow Pose, sensing the forward bend and the back bend, then isolate the neutral position where energy can flow from the wrists to the base of the body unobstructed.
8. Engage the bandhas fully and lift the hips higher into the air as the legs straighten.
9. Stretch through the legs and pedal the heels from one leg to another to deepen the stretch, and when comfortable, draw both heels toward the floor and hold the pose. 
10. Press the heels toward the earth, finding a firm base of support through the entire foot. 
11. Find a balance point between the front body and the back body, supported in the center by the bandhas, and rest in this position.
12. Widen across the upper back to create space between the shoulder blades and completely relax the head. Make sure there's space between the earlobes and shoulders, so you're engaging the entire shoulder girdle and not drooping towards the earth to alleviate pressure in the sensitive area of the neck. 
13. Activate the chakras in the hands by pressing the web between the thumb and the index fingers; in the feet by spreading the feet wide and drawing energy up from the earth.
14. With each inhalation, draw energy up the arms and legs into the First and Second Chakras (located at the base of the spine and right below the abdomen). With each exhalation, allows this energy to radiate out from the core, providing support for the pose.

Extra tidbits:

- Allow any sounds that want to emerge from the throat to do so, releasing energy from the neck and head, and relaxing the nervous system to encourage a deep and calming stillness, even while the body remains active. 

Let's explore the benefits of the pose: 

- Balances all five elements in Ayurvedic medicine: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Space. My private clients benefit from a practice designed especially for their dosha, so if you'd like to learn more, please feel free to contact me
  - For imbalances in the doshas, aim for the following: 
    - Vata: Develop firm and steady holding.
    - Pitta: Release strain and effort while developing calmness.
    - Kapha: Focus on drawing energy up from the earth and into the lungs.

- Balances all seven chakras
- Creates integration and balance between the upper and lower body. 
- Strengthens the legs and the shoulders.
- Calms the nervous system.

Modifications:

- Stand facing the wall, bend at the hips, and press the hands into the wall. 
- Keep the knees slightly bent, heels and tailbone lifted, ensuring the spine is straight.
- Strap the thighs together or place a block between the thighs (the skinny side) to develop leg strength and alignment — this really works by bringing your attention to the bottom half of your body and engaging all of your legs. 
- Place a strap around the arms and press into the strap to create strength and alignment. 
- For a deeper stretch in the calves and hamstrings, as well as alleviating pressure from the wrists, practice with the forearms on the floor, parallel to one another.

Injuries: 

- Those with wrist or shoulder pain should begin with modifications.
- This is an inverted pose, so be cautious if you have high blood pressure, heart related problems, eye issues (floaters), neck problems, epilepsy, previous stroke or sinus problems.  
- Because this can be intense on the shoulders, be sure to strengthen the shoulder girdle area. For any rotator cuff injuries or shoulder sensitivities, warm up the shoulders first. 

Based upon Integrative Yoga Therapy by Joseph and Lilian Le Page.

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