Downward dog is considered a foundation pose; we use it to get into several of our standing poses. However, it’s so common, we often take it for granted. It is incredibly strengthening and it helps us to gauge where we are tight, and where we need to focus the breath.
The first downward dog of the sequence in many of my classes is where I notice the most reaction. All of the sudden everyone is totally aware of this body they’ve been walking around with all day. We tend to sit, stand and move in ways that make us comfortable, so when we actually start stretching stuff out we realize just how tight we are.
Here are a few downward dog variations that you can easily incorporate into your workout that target several different areas.
As a Warm-up
Come to downward dog at the beginning of your sequence to gauge where you are and start to stretch out the areas that feel tight. Peddle the legs, sway the hips from side to side, and keep breathing in and out through the nose. When you’re ready, pull the hips up and back and find a place of stillness. Note: feet are hip-width apart, shoulders over wrists, and fingers are spread with the middle finger facing forward. Relax the neck and head, and keep the shoulders away from the ears.
Arms and Legs
Very slight adjustments will help you to strengthen the arms or legs. Walk the feet forward, shrinking your triangle and putting more weight on the arm. Once you feel stable pull the hips up and back. This will challenge the arms. For the legs: keep the hands where they are and step the feet back, widening your triangle, again adjusting the hips once you’re stable.
Traditional downward dog does work your core, but you can take it up a notch by holding in downward dog for five breaths, then on an inhale come forward into plank and hold for another five breaths before coming back to downward dog. Try starting out with three sets and then work your way up.
You can also lift the leg up off the mat, bringing it parallel to the floor and in line with your torso, hold for 30 seconds then switch.
Stretch it out
Come back to downward dog throughout your sequence or workout to stretch out the work you’ve done. This helps to keep movement fluid and prevent injury. Bring the hips up and back allowing you to stretch the hips, hamstrings and arms. Readjust, then lift the right leg off the mat, bend at the knee to bring toes up and over towards the left, stretch here, then switch.
As you come to the end of your routine, step back into downward dog one final time. Again, use the pose to gauge the work you’ve done and compare it to your first downward dog of the sequence. Does your body feel more open? Are you able to bring the hips up and back more easily? Take a moment here and just breathe. Be mindful of the body and grateful for all the things it does for you.