When you thought you knew

After quite a few years of yoga practice, with various teachers that all agree on what is the perfect alignment in basic poses, you start to believe that these poses have no secret for you and you are craving for more challenges. It was therefore quite a shock when Master Paalu described what should be a perfect Adho mukha svanasana (downward dog) and the consequences of doing this asana right or wrong for the rest of your vinyasa.

The common explanations I received over the previous group classes was that when in downward dog:

  • you should have your back flatten
  • you should aim at having your hills touching the floor but it’s ok if you can’t
  • you should do a nice V shape and spread the weights equally on your legs and arms
  • you should push the floor away with your hands

Additionally, from Adho mukha svanasana you should be able to move to Santolasana (high plank) without moving your feet and your shoulders will be automatically above your wrists. The high plank position therefore really helps you know how wide your downward dog should be.

With this practice, I could go easily through many vinyasas without feeling too tired, even the chaturangas were ok for me. However, I was not improving in arm-balancing poses and not even close to hold a hand stand.

What Master Paalu told us shaken me up because to him all the teachers are wrong. Not only is the downward dog too wide when you do it the way I described previously but your planks and chaturangas are also wrong and will not help you balance on your arms and can lead to wrist injuries. And here is why:

  • Apart from very stiff persons, your hills should be on the floor in downward dog, which means that you need to shorten the distance between your feet and your hands.
  • To hold the pose, you need to engage your hip flexors, a good way to know if you are indeed doing it is to try to hold a towel between your lower belly and your upper thighs. It is actually really hard to do but with patience and practice you will be able to do it.
  • Most of the weights should be on your legs in order to hold the pose more comfortably.

You might think, ok but if the distance is shorter between my feet and hands, I will not be able to go straight to plank without moving my feet, right ? Well, actually the key thing is that your shoulders should be not be above your wrists in plank or chaturanga, they should be much more forward ! This way your elbows will form a 90 degrees angle when you go down to chaturanga. Additionally for all the arm-balancing poses you need to move your shoulders forward to have enough strength and balance.

This “new” alignment makes the vinyasa more challenging because different arm muscles are engaged but it really helped me to improve my crow poses (even one legged crow) in no time. Engaging voluntarily my hip flexors was also my key to go up to hand stand.

Give it a try and see for yourself.


– Stephanie –



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