SmartMat Pose of the Week: Downward Facing Dog
Many Yoga poses are named for the shape they mimic, and to allude to certain qualities they seek to awaken in the practitioner. Downward-facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) is no exception to that rule. Known for their loyalty and role as playful companions, dogs are often considered trusted allies and protectors in our lives, and in some parts of Indian culture (from which Yoga originated) dogs are associated with death and the soul’s journey home.
Done to its fullest, downward-facing dog can embody that feeling of playfulness and freedom that dogs are known for by expanding the spine fully and placing the heart above the head. It can also awaken a more introspective side of ourselves, as we literally turn our world upside down and practice observing our reality in a new way. Let’s take a closer look at the pose, and see how you can optimize it for maximum benefit.
A Good Pose Starts With a Good Foundation
Through stability comes freedom, and if we wish to experience the freedom of an open spine in Downward-Dog, we must have a solid base. In Downward-dog, this is especially important when it comes to our hands.
A Common Misalignment
Frequently, when students press up into Down-dog, without close attention, they incorrectly distribute the weight in the hands, having as much as 75-80 % of their weight collapsing into the outer wrist. Practice this way regularly, and it’s sure to lead to wrist strain and perhaps even chronic pain.
Here’s a picture of what this misalignment may commonly look like. Notice how the index finger knuckles are lifting off the floor, and the fingers are not fully grounded:
A Smart Way To Correct
Practicing with Smart Mat will help eliminate this common misalignment in two ways:
1. Adjusting Your Weight Distribution. With SmartMat, you can see how your weight distribution plays out real time in your hands. If you’re too heavily weighted into the outer wrist, you’ll be guided to adjust until you’ve correctly distributed the weight evenly through the four corners of the palms of your hands. Once corrected, a student can feel an increase in their stability and are able to push more fully through the knuckles of the hand to elongate the spine and reach through the hips.
2. Adjusting Your Positioning. Many students further accentuate wrist strain (and perhaps even some shoulder or neck pain) by turning their hands out too much while performing Downward-dog. Here’s a picture of what this misalignment may look like:
Other times, students turn their hands too inward, also causing wrist strain and shoulder misalignment. Here’s what this looks like:
Ideally, the hands are placed approximately shoulder-width apart with fingers spread wide and index fingers parallel to each other as displayed in this image below:
Because SmartMat not only measures your balance, but also your positioning, if it notices your hands are not in the ideal alignment for your body, you’ll be guided to adjust in order to avoid the common pitfalls of hand placement in Downward Dog and the pain that comes with it.
You’re On Your Way
With a firm foundation in place, a student can now press through the knuckles of the hands evenly and invite the spine into a deeper opening in this well-loved posture. Now, all that’s left to do is to relax and enjoy the pose like a happy dog wagging its tail.