Downward Dog in Detail

                                  by Candice Mitchell & Lu Mueller-Kaul, illustration by Roman Jones


We’re working on a little e-book about basic yoga poses… so this post is a teaser.

When you’re in a yoga class next time, look around the room at all the different types of Downward Dog. You see dachshunds and great danes, and very often you see a strange crossbreed between Dog and Plank Pose.

Downward Dog is the most stereotypical yoga pose, but it’s very hard to learn for beginners. Ideal would be an instructor who gives some hands-on help with alignment.

In this picture you see what a good beginner’s pose could look like. In this case, a beginner with tight shoulders, but flexible calves. Try it out for yourself!    

From Low Cobra or Child’s Pose, tuck your toes under and lift yourself from the ground so that your bottom is high in the air and you are pressing your chest toward your thighs. It’s best to practice transitioning from Low Cobra into Child’s Pose and then into Downward Dog until you’ve built enough core strength.

You will look like an isosceles triangle if your shoulders are flexible enough to have your arms over your head.

For a shoulder emphasis, keep your knees significantly bent and your heels lifted high. Isometrically press your hands forward as if you’re trying to stretch your mat longer without actually moving. Use the leverage from your hands to push the breastbone toward your thighs while keeping your sit bones tilting toward the ceiling.

You are trying to bring your head through the “window” of your arms, closer to your thighs. Keep your neck free by moving your shoulders away from your ears.


For a hamstring and calf emphasis, straighten your knees, but retain your pelvic tilt by continuing to lift the sit bones toward the ceiling. If you can straighten your legs, squeeze your front thigh muscles and work your heels toward the floor. Isometrically drag the balls of your feet toward the rear of your mat as if you’re trying to stretch your mat longer or widen your stance without actually moving.

Try the different versions for shoulder and hamstring emphasis. Which do you like better? What is it you don’t like about the other?
If your shoulders are very tight, it might be hard to get your head through “the window” of your arms. Make sure you don’t compensate by rounding your upper back.
Try bending one knee at a time, shifting your pelvis from side to side, pedaling your feet slowly.


How does that work for you? Did you find the written instructions useful? Are you having more of a challenge in the hamstrings, or in the shoulders? Please leave a comment!

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