Countering Sitting #2 - Adho Mukha Svanasana

Have you ever made the slightest movement and suddenly your neck is stiff? It happened to me yesterday, for the first time. I went to turn off a light switch at work and my neck spasmed.

The irony that this happened only a few days after I posted about practicing yoga to stay limber is not lost on me. And honestly, I’m not surprised because despite my efforts to keep yoga in my life, I don’t practice as frequently as I should.

But I know that some yoga is better than no yoga.

That’s why when my neck spasmed, I signed up for Hot Yin with Randy at Modo Yoga. I left work at 5pm, and Ray and I spent an hour relaxing in a 100 degree room. The heat alone made my neck feel like it was back to normal.

But outside of the yoga room, it’s still not 100%, so today I practiced again and focused on poses that elongate the neck and align the spine. One pose that fits perfectly in to this and counters the effects of sitting is downward-facing dog.

Adho Mukha Svanasana

Adho mukha svanasana, or downward-facing dog (DD), is a common yoga pose, and the center of a vinyasa class. When I first started practicing yoga, I found DD to be uncomfortable. My hands and feet would slip and my wrists hurt. Over time, I learned to press into my hands and distribute the weight between my hands and feet, which has made downward dog a pose I can go to for rest.

BENEFITS

  1. Increasing Circulation - DD is a mild inversion, and can increase circulation by changing the relationship between your head and your heart. Typically our heart is below our head, so gravity works against the blood moving up towards the head.

  2. Lengthening the entire spine - When done correctly, DD creates one long line of energy from the crown of the head to your tailbone. Your neck should be long, relaxed between your upper arms. Your tailbone is lengthening to the ceiling and back wall, creating this sensation of a stretch along your entire spine.

  3. Calming the mind - Releasing your head down creates a calming effect, so DD can be a place of rest and relaxation for many.

  4. Strengthens the entire body - DD can be a relaxing pose, but the whole body has to actively work to support the pose. Your hands, arms, shoulders, hips, legs and feet are all actively working. DD also strengthens the core, as you draw belly into your spine and engage through your abdominals.

HOW TO PRACTICE

Start by coming into a table top. Walk your hands forward and tuck your back toes under to send your hips up and back. Notice where your hands and feet are, and walk them out (note: you can draw forward into a plank to check your spacing - if you have to walk your feet forward or backward, then readjust your stance).

Hands / Arms - In down dog, press into your palms actively into the mat and spread all ten fingers. Use the strength of your hands pressing down to activate your arms and wrap your outer upper arms down.

Shoulders - Notice if your shoulders are hunched towards your ears. Draw them down on your back to relax them.

Feet / Legs - Root into your feet and soften your heels towards the mat. It’s okay if your heels don’t reach the mat or if your hamstrings are tight. Try bending your knees and sending your chest to your upper thighs and sending your tailbone back and up.

Spine - Continue to draw the tailbone back and up to lengthen out your lower back. Create that action like you are trying to sit on the back wall where it meets the ceiling. Relax your neck, so it’s in one long line of energy with your spine.

Now bring stillness to your down dog, keeping all the actions that we just did. And focus on your breathing for 3 inhales and exhales.

When you are ready, lower your knees to the ground and sit back into a child’s pose.

HOW TO MODIFY

Even though downward dog is a common pose in the yoga world, it is still challenging. If you have tight hamstrings, tight shoulders, or wrist pain, you may need to modify.

  • If you have tight hamstrings, create a bend in your knees (practice walking out one heel then the other) or walk your feet out to the edges of your mat

  • If you have tight calves / achilles, place a rolled up blanket or mat under your heels to create space

  • If you have tight shoulders, bring your hands wider apart - as wide as the edges of your mat

  • If you have sensitive wrists, bring one arm down into a dolphin variation (elbow, forearm, wrist are down on the mat) and then alternate

This pose should be avoided if you have serious wrist injuries or have high blood pressure / dizziness.