If you have ever taken a vinyasa or flow class, Adho Mukha Svanasana or Downward Facing Dog is an integral and frequented pose. Translated from Sanskrit as Adho - Forward; Mukha - Face; Svana - Dog, this pose helps to lengthen the spine, tone the muscles, and calm the nervous system.
As a beginner, I used to silently scream and fidget in this pose. My wrists would ache, my hips would never reach high enough, and no matter how hard I tried, I could not get my heels to touch the mat. When instructors would say this was a resting pose, I scoffed. Nothing about it felt like rest. Looking around the room, I would secretly curse the other students who could so easily glide to and from this posture, making it look so effortless.
The more I practiced, though, the easier it became, and my relationship with the pose began to change. I also learned the correct alignment, and I can finally say that I do rest in this pose. My heels still don't touch the ground, but that's ok. Especially in more advanced classes, I look forward to the chance of resting in down dog.
So, how can you go from hating this pose to loving it? Or at least not hating it as much? Below, I break down the pose and provide proper alignment.
First thing's first, the base or foundation of the pose. It is so important to establish a firm and stable base. From here, you can work your way up. Starting on all fours in table, spread your fingers wide apart from each other, and look down at your hands. Make sure your shoulders are aligned directly over the wrists. Your knees will be directly in line with your hips. Gripping the mat with your fingertips, lift and flatten them onto the mat a few times until you are pressing into the thumb and first finger. We all have domes in our body. One of these domes is in our palms, and so take a look at your palms to identify the dome in the center of your hand.
Now take a look at your elbows. Turn your elbows out to the side, and then spiral the elbows close to the body so that the inner part of the elbow, or eye of the elbow is facing the front of the mat. Keeping your palms in place, rotate your elbows several times as if you are twisting open the lid on a jar.
From here, slide your shoulders away from your ears and towards your back in order to allow more space, and to prevent any crunching of the neck and shoulders. Tuck your toes under and begin to sit back towards your heels. When you feel stable, begin to press your hips and pelvis toward the ceiling, keeping your knees deeply bent. Continue pressing into the thumb and first finger to alleviate any pressure from your wrists.
Your feet will be hip distance apart, heels pressing down to the earth. Again, it's ok if your heels don't touch the mat. In fact, it's better if they don't. Keeping the knees bent will allow your hips to reach higher towards the sky and, in turn, this will elongate your spine. Once you feel good here, melt your heart down in between your biceps, letting go of any tension in the head and neck. Continue pressing the heart down as you keep reaching the hips up. It's a dual/opposing action. Feel your spine lengthen and imagine sending your breath all the way up the spine and then down into your heels. Continue taking full breaths here, and of course, once you get tired, bring your knees to the mat and take child's pose.
Try this out and let me know how it goes!