5 Things You Never Knew About The Yoga Pose - Downward Facing Dog
1 -Downward-facing dog is considered an inversion! This is because in this posture, your head is below your heart. Inversions improve blood flow to your brain (thanks gravity!) and can help to relax the nervous system, reduce stress and even improve brain function.
2 – Downward-facing dog activates a ton of muscles! Though considered a “resting” pose after a vinyasa, any beginner to yoga would wholeheartedly agree that downward-facing dog engages muscles everywhere! Downward-facing dog is especially good for engaging your arm and shoulder muscles, specifically:
- Trapezius (upper back muscles) stabilises the scapula (shoulders)
- Infraspinatus and teres minor (shoulder muscles) externally rotate the scapula
- Pronator quadratus (forearm muscles) prontates the forearms
- Quadriceps femoris (front thigh muscles) flexes the pelvic girdle (hip)
- Gracilis (connecting the hip with the thigh bone) externally rotates the thighs and flexes the thigh and knee
- Gastrocnemius (calves) flexes the knee and ankle joints
3 – Downward-facing dog also stretches a ton of muscles. Done correctly, this posture will help to improve shoulder mobility, lengthen your spine and loosen muscles in the back of your legs. Specifically, some muscles that are stretched out include:
- When we dorsiflex the feet, we stretch the gastrocnemius (big calf muscle) and soleus (under the big calf muscle). This can help to relieve ankle and knee tension.
- When we straighten the arms, we stretch the transversus abdominis (abs), semispinalis (deep spine muscles) as well as the rhomboid major and minor (muscles connecting the shoulder blades to the spine). Stretching out your abodominals can improve digestion and stretching out your spine and shoulders can help to reduce anxiety.
4 – Not everyone does the downward-facing dog correctly! Because this is such a common and easily accessed posture, most people don’t even give it a second thought. But, if you want to maximise the benefits of your practice, make sure your form and alignment is correct! Here are a few things you should bear in mind:
- Distance between your hands and feet in downward facing dog = Distance between your hands and feet in a plank pose.
- Hands should be shoulder-width apart. Feet should be hip-width apart.
- Fingers should be spread apart, with index fingers parellel and pointing forward at 12 o’clock.
- Shoulders depressed, gaze towards the navel.
5 – Your heels don’t need to touch the ground in downward-facing dog! While many people think that the “correct” posture is with you heels firmly pressed down on the ground, it is more critical to engage your shoulders, open up your chest and keep your spine straight. If (like me) your heels cannot reach the ground, you can try some of the following modifications. You can do them one at a time or combine them!
- Keep your knees bent: this will take the pressure off those tight hamstrings and calf muslces (e.g. gastrocnemius).
- Place a towel under your heels: this can support your heels and reduce pressure on your ankle muscles (e.g. tibialis anterior and tibialis posterior).
- Use your forearms, instead of your palms (i.e. dolphin pose): this can also take the pressure off your wrists (e.g. flexor carpi ulnaris and flexo carpi radialis).
[Bonus!] 6 – Downward-facing dog is called “Adho Mukha Svanasa” in Sanskrit