I’ve written about the importance of transitions in a previous blog. The up dog to down dog transition is perhaps one of the most famous transitions in the yoga practice.
In taking care of the spine it is also important to perform dynamic movements. Although the spine supports the body, it also needs support from other muscles to work optimally. If your abdominal muscles and sides are weak, the load of the entire torso is borne by your spine and this leads to compression of the back and back pain. This eventually leads to disc bulges, slipped disc etc.
Back pain can be prevented by keeping the spine supple and flexible. Moving the spine from a concave to convex position i.e curving it in and out – is an excellent way to keep the vertebrae well conditioned and strong.
Adhomukha means face downward in Sanskrit. Svana means dog. There are many different ways of practicing this posture. Sometimes with heels lifted up, other times with the toes lifted. Sometimes with feet together, sometimes wide apart. Sometimes with heels against a wall, sometimes with the hands against the wall. Each variation has its own distinct benefit.
Benefits of Adhomukha Svanasana
- Provides great relaxation to the body and mind.
- Makes the shoulders and shoulder blades more flexible.
- Great to tone and strengthen the legs.
- Rejuvenates the entire body.
- Stimulates blood flow to the brain and helps to relieve anxiety and depression.
- Reduces lower backache.
It is advisable not to hold this posture for long periods of time when you are menstruating. However, those with heavy and uncomfortable menses will benefit greatly by practicing this posture between their cycles.
Benefits of Urdhvamukha Svanasana
- Great to ease a stiff neck.
- Rejuvenates the spine.
- Great for those with sciatica, slipped or prolapsed discs.
- Strengthens the spine.
- Expands the chest, so enables better breathing.
- Keeps the pelvic region healthy.
[Practice Tip] For beginners to yoga this posture is a challenge. Most of us tend to collapse the shoulders and chest, and this puts a lot of strain on the shoulders and neck. To prevent this, push your hands more strongly into the floor, making sure your fingers are spread wide apart. Then elevate the chest up and forward.
Watch this video to understand the finer points of this transition.
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This pose resembles a dog stretching itself with head and forelegs down and the hind legs up, hence the name. (Light on Yoga, p 110)
Adho means “down,” mukha, meaning “face,” svana, meaning “dog,” and asana, meaning “pose”.
It helps to:
- Relieve pain and stiffness in the legs and heels, so great for runners and sprinters.
- Strengthen and shape the legs.
- Open up the shoulder blades and shoulder joints.
- Strengthen the arms and legs.
- Relieve fatigue.
Avoid practicing this asana when you have a fever or are feeling lightheaded. Also if you have diarrhea, avoid this asana.
Busting the Myths
Most yoga students feel touching your head to the floor is the ultimate goal in this asana (a la BKS Iyengar). Guess what? Forcing your head to the floor makes you curve your spine, which is definitely not what you want to be doing. Read on for some practice pointers…
- Resting your heels against a wall and pushing into the wall will enable you to engage and extend the back of the legs.
- If you are menstruating, have high blood pressure or a headache, rest your head on a bolster or block.
Incidentally, I wrote about the adho mukha svanasana a few weeks ago. Check out the blog, it may shed more light.
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I was talking about pets the other day with some of my friends. One of them has recently adopted a dog and the other one is also planning on getting one. All of us know a dog lover or two. All of us know a downward dog lover or two too (#yogahumor)!
In ‘Beyond Asanas‘ the first chapter is about the downward dog pose. When researching this posture I looked at dog-lore from different cultures. My goal was also to unearth dog-related stories in our mythology. And sure enough – I found a few stories – two of which have made it into this chapter. In one story a dog helps Lord Indra and in another story a dog is granted admission into heaven after the battle of Kurukshetra.
The Downward Dog is a challenging posture. The most common challenge I see with students is the inability to lengthen the spine. Many beginners are in a hurry to place the heels on the floor, and this compromises the form of the lower back.
- Place your hands and knees on the floor, shoulder and hip width apart.
- Spread your fingers wide on the mat and press the hands down firmly.
- Start to straighten your legs.
- Lift and extend your tailbone up and out.
- Extend the torso by extending the spine.
- Lengthen the back of the legs as you push the heels into the floor.
- Relax the neck, face and shoulders.
It’s a good idea to start in Vajrasana because your legs are together – which is how you want them to be in the final posture too.
In this position position you need to make sure that your wrists are right under should shoulders. And here you can also separate your legs about hip width distance, making sure that the ankles and knees are in one line.
Notice the length in the spine. Things you must watch out for: allowing the shoulders to sag down close to the ears, a curve in the thoracic and lumbar spine, and bent knees. Watch this video to learn how to correct these alignment issues.
You can use props such as a wall, blocks and a rope to help you in aligning the posture. I’ve written a few helpful hits about how to improve this posture in ‘Beyond Asanas: The Myths and Legends Behind Yogic Postures’. Those of you who follow me on YouTube may remember this video I made in 2016. It’s a great video for beginners, because of the detailed explanation of how to get into the posture. Do check it out – it will surely help.
I’ve listed out at least 10 benefits of this asana in the book. However, there are contraindications as well, and those have also been described in ‘Beyond Asanas’. Pick up your copy today.
I’ve never had a dog, but I’m not impervious to their charms. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve met Aston. He makes my time in Pune a little more fun, a little less lonely.