Ardho Mukha Svanasana – Downward facing dog

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Just like Marmite, you either love or hate your down dog and it may take a while to adjust into this bizarre inversion and utilize it as the restful pose that it is intended to be but fear not, every moment in this posture will lead towards greater opening in those frozen hips, hamstrings and shoulders. My advice would simply be to breath deeply in this posture and draw your awareness to the following:

1) Lift those wrists

Being on our hands for the first time is a big learning curve. There is a subtle arch in the wrist, forming the carpal tunnel that needs protecting from the weight of our body. Really notice if you are dumping all of the pressure here and if so, gently press into the balls/knuckles/fingers of the hand to spread the pressure out evenly throughout the palm.

2) Unlock those elbows

Soften and unlock those elbows! If you are already quite mobile, creating too much laxity in the ligaments that hold the joint together may lead to problems with joint articulation in the future. Also, don’t deny yourself the opportunity to strengthen those triceps, it will prepare and open you up tor the world of arm balances and inversions to really allow you to flow through these strength and balance building postures.

3) Draw the shoulders down and away from the ears and hug and roll the arm pits in

Your whole arm is attached to the rest of your body by one tiny joint: the Manubrio-clavicular joint (medial collar bone to breast bone). This highly mobile limb is the much appreciated result of the shoulder girdle and shoulder joint working in sync to bring out our crazy acrobats. When we hang our body weight on our shoulders, we are stressing all the fascia and tissues around this extremely complex joint. Do yourself a little favour and just keep them engaged and hugging forward, in and away from the ears. With this intention, you are both strengthening and protecting all the delicate muscles around the shoulders and maintaining a softness in the neck.

4) Work towards a long neutral spine as  if you were standing 

This is mainly to protect that lower back from excessive flexion and compression of the discs.

There is usually only one limiting factor to a long neutral spine. That is the position of the pelvis. Next time you are in down dog, feel for the natural hollow of the lumbar spine and notice the position of your pelvis. If there is space around the hips to tilt the pelvis forward then gently do so by intending to reach the belly button/lower belly to the thighs and reaching the tail bone to the sky, until that natural lumbar lordosis (subtle incurving of the lumbar spine) reappears. If this means, bending those knees to create more space to rock that pelvis, then bend and rock away….it is not worth getting into another unconscious habit of rounding and grinding the spine just to have straight legs. This leads me on to the dreaded…

5) Hamstrings. Send them lots of love and attention

Oh hamstrings, how we have forsaken you with all those hours on the chair. While we were busy on facebook, you were shrinking, tightening and petrifying. It is a great sadness that in our old age, we may not be able to bend down and pat our dogs.

If we choose not to engage the full mobility of our hamstrings in our daily activities then one has no right to turn around in 50 years time and blame their body for not being able to perform to their expectations. The body is so so unbelievably intelligent. It is constantly evolving, constantly changing from moment to moment…depending on what stimulus we present it with in each moment of our lives. If you use it, it will strengthen, if you reach from it, it will lengthen, if you sit in a chair all day and never move, you will start to look like you are forever sitting in a chair, hobbling forward with frozen bent legs, arching over your walking stick, unable to look up.

So when the opportunity arises in every down dog, send all of your love, compassion and patience to your hamstrings and breathe through that tight karma you have created. Quietly and gently observe how you can deepen into the stretch and open out the back of your beautiful legs. Start with a deep bend in the knees if you need to, make sure the stretch is coming from the deep belly of the muscles and evenly along those fascial lines. If you feel a sharp tight tug near the knee joint or sit bones, gently explore and maneuver yourself to spread the stretch evenly. Excessive habitual pain and tension at the enthesis (connective tissue insertion to bone) is something to steer clear of. Continue to explore with the tilting of the pelvis and gently shifting you weight back by pushing the floor away from you with your palms.

 

Work with these few reminders to execute a safe and effective down dog and enjoy the journey of opening up the back of the legs safely and consciously. There is no limit to how much we can bring our awareness to within our body. Every realisation is lasting and worth taking the time to explore.

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