A Pose I Used to Hate: Down Dog Then and Now

When my youngest daughter was a toddler, I was a dutiful blogger. That feels like a lifetime ago. And I honestly don’t remember why I stopped doing it. It was something I enjoyed, and I’ve decided to give it another go in 2021. Let’s see what happens this time.

I thought I’d start with a look back to six years ago, when I was struggling with one of my now favorite poses. Adho Mukha Shvanasana, better know as down dog. I’ve been to classes where I’ve heard this described as a “resting pose,” and let me tell you, I think that’s total bull. Down dog is work. It builds strength in the arms and shoulders, and stretches the back, hamstrings, and calves.

I’ve learned a lot since then about how to make down dog more accessible for different body types, and below are a few things I’d like to share with you.

Bend those knees! Tight calf and/or hamstring muscles make this pose feel like misery, and that can place too much pressure on the shoulders. There’s no shame in bending the knees to provide some relief. You may even find a stretch in the back that way.

Grab a prop. Blocks can raise height of the floor and ease the pressure on the shoulders or the wrists.

Do child’s pose instead. Some days, down dog is just not happening. And that’s ok. Do not hesitate to drop those knees and move into a child’s pose if you need it. No matter how skilled the a yoga instructor is, they can’t feel what’s going on in your body. Listen and trust that your body knows what you need.

Are there more modifications you use to assist with down dog? I’d love to hear about them. Feel free to reach out through the contact page.

Still Leaning into Yoga – October 2014

Down Dog Before - Dawn is on a purple yoga mat attempting the poses with a toddler underneath her. Her back is rounded.

The above picture is from March. Mini Me took it while I was in my yoga rut.

Whenever I crawled into downward dog, I felt stiff and awkward. I could say that Lil Ma camping underneath me didn’t help, but it’s not her fault. This was my standard pose.

When Hubs suggested I take pictures of my poses and compare them to ones from a trusted yoga source, I gave him some serious side eye, but he wasn’t totally off base. What he didn’t know is that I had tried that, and I couldn’t always figure out how to adjust my poses. I needed help from a certified yoga instructor.

I got three.

The first was my former colleague-now-full-time-yogi, Becky. She saw my tragic downward dog pic on Facebook and offered advice on keeping my shoulders down and stretching my spine. “Breathe and think loooooong spine,” she wrote.

My second and third instructors, Angie and Karen, are from a local yoga studio. They too encouraged me to stop hunching my shoulders and to lift my rear-end, or “cupcake,” to lengthen the pose. In every class, Karen dutifully and gently adjusted my pose to get me to lengthen and lift.

I took the advice home every week. I pressed and pulled and lifted to try for a better down dog. None of them felt right.

Last week, I noticed that Karen took a deep breath as she adjusted my pose. It made me think about Becky’s advice again.

“Breathe and think loooooong spine.”

Breathe. Think.

Sure, I was breathing. Actually, I was huffing and puffing. I was thinking too, but I was thinking about how much I didn’t like the pose. What I wasn’t doing was connecting my breath, my movements, and my thoughts. This connection is a yoga fundamental, and it’s really hard to do. (At least for me it is.) 

Instead of worrying about what my down dog looked like, I started paying attention to how it felt.  I appreciated the strength of my hands as they pressed into the mat. I took in full, deep breaths that were both relaxing and energizing. And when I remembered to lift my cupcake, my back got a great stretch. Down dog felt really good. Who knew?

Turns out, the change in focus improved my pose too.  Here’s my latest yoga selfie. More soon!

Down Dog After - Dawn is attempting the pose after making suggested changes. Back is straight.
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