Today I want to talk about that most famous pose called Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana).
Many times students have expressed confusion over this fundamental asana owing to different teachers teaching it in different ways. We can all agree on the general shape – but the details of the alignment instructions often sound contradictory. Students then ask, “What is correct? How should I do this pose?”
Here is my answer:
How you should do Down Dog depends on your spine, your legs, and your hips and lower back. My advice is, don’t try to do it like the Indian man you once saw in a book. Instead, consider your lifestyle, your daily postural habits and how they need to be balanced. Do you spend many hours a day looking down at a screen, your neck in a forward bend? Then I recommend you do Down Dog more often with your head not hanging down. Keep it slightly lifted so the neck can gain some strength while maintaining a gentle lordotic curve (natural inward curve).
The details of alignment in our poses need to evolve with our needs. I currently teach five different variations of Downward Dog, which you can read about and see in this month’s Yoga Aktuell.
Evolution of Downward Dog
B&W Yogi: B.K.S. Iyengar, 1966
Image 2a: Barbra in Yoga Aktuell, 2011
Red Yogini: Sianna Sherman, Mythic Yoga Flow, 2016
Black Yogini: Desirée Rumbaugh, 2010
Green Yogini: Barbra, 2011
The most “basic” version (knees bent, lower back curving in, head lifted, gaze forward to the wrists) is the one I teach most often as it is therapeutic for the neck and lower back. I have come to call it “Power Dog”, a Dog Pose from which you develop elastic, supple strength, from which you could even jump – as opposed to the traditional “straight-legged-head-down-foot-gazing” version that is designed to stretch.
Just to be clear – I have not invented anything new. The Power Dog I mention was already being taught by my Anusara teachers 10 years ago. This bent knee modification was often recommended for students with limited flexibility, but I now teach it to everyone as it is much easier to find optimal alignment for the spine and lower back when the knees are bent. My ideas on this and other aspects of practice have developed not only from my Anusara studies, but also from conversations with my osteopath, my observations of students over the last 18 years, and what I have learnt from experts on “fascial fitness” such as Dr Robert Schleip.
For the magazine Yoga Aktuell I have been asked to present Strength & Grace Yoga. This is what I call my approach to practice. It is not a static system of alignment or “another set of rules set in stone”. I am interested in a framework that allows us to ADAPT, ADJUST and ADD new things to our practice.
May you enjoy being you, in your body, and in your Downward Facing Dog!