Last time we looked at the alignment in downward facing dog (Sanskrit: adho mukha svanasana) we focused on the upper body- the hands, elbows and shoulders. We took a look at the importance of hasta bandha and how that element affects the rest of the pose.
Reminder: we build our poses from the ground up. So if you’re collapsing in your palms, you are also likely collapsing in the wrists, propping in the elbows, and collapsing in the shoulders. Over time, this causes joint pain and even injury.
Now that we’re dialed in from our palms to our shoulders, let’s take a look at our alignment and awareness from the waist down.
So here we are in downward facing dog. We have hasta bandha, we’re lifting out of the wrists, our elbows aren’t locked, and we’re pushing through our shoulders, feeling length in the side body, head/neck are relaxed and in-between the upper arms.
Now let’s take a look at the rest of this pose and how to stay safe.
- In downward facing dog, the belly is softly drawing in creating a gentle expression of uddiyana bandha.
- Bad Yogi 101: Uddiyana bandha involves, after having exhaled all the air out, pulling the abdomen under the rib cage by taking a “false inhale” while holding the breath and then releasing the abdomen after a pause.
- Allow the abdominal cavity to hollow slightly as you maintain a soft Uddiyana.
- Feel the ribcage widen slightly (without allowing front ribs to splay out).
- Your tailbone is reaching toward the ceiling.
- Imagine reaching your tailbone to the point where the wall meets the ceiling- this ensures you’re not over-reaching or lifting the tailbone (and pelvis) and that you’re not tucking the tailbone.
- Think of reaching.
- Here is a place that truly reflects how every body is different.
- If your hamstrings and/or hips are tight, bend your knees. This allows you to maintain alignment and integrity in the upper body, as well as correct the urge to tuck your tailbone and round in the lumbar spine.
- If hamstrings and/or hips are tight and you try to straighten your knees, the collapse will show up somewhere (usually more places than one) and generally, it’s in the low back.
- So bend your knees in order to find that lift and reach of the tail bone.
- If you have the openness and flexibility in your hamstrings to keep knees straight, just be mindful you’re not locking them. Always keep a little micro-bend in the joints.
- Feet are hip-width apart.
- Same guidelines apply here as do for the knees.
- Don’t try to cram your heels down if it causes you to collapse and round in the lower back because, as we discussed earlier, this collapse will show up somewhere else in the body as well.
- Let your knees bend and your heels lift if you need to in order to maintain integrity of the spine (keeping it long and reaching).
- If your heels are lifted off of the earth, you can still apply that drawing down or yielding your heels into the earth through the action of keeping them active OR you can even place your heels on a block or the bottom of a wall! This brings the earth to you, allowing you to access that feeling and action of pressing your heels into the ‘earth’.
- Base of the big toe is pressing into the earth as your weight pours through your heels (creating a lift in the arches). Remember, you can still have action of the heels even if they’re not on the earth.
Take a look at the image below. Can you tell in which pic that the knees should be bent in downward facing dog?
There’s a lot going on that’s unsafe in the top pic:
- Collapsing in the shoulders, elbows, and wrists.
- Dis-integration of the spine
- Tucking the chin
- Rounding in the low back
Just to name a few. All of this can be corrected by following the steps above.
We don’t focus on alignment to create the ‘perfect’ pose. That is not the goal. And remember, every body is shaped differently and has different limitations, ranges, and abilities. The reason we embody postural alignment is to keep us safe and to better access the flow of prana (life force energy). When we are propping, collapsing, and holding shapes in a dis-integrated way, prana doesn’t flow through us. It leaks out of our pranic vessel (body).
These are the reasons why we care about alignment. NOT to fit a social image of a perfect body in a perfect shape.
The next time you roll out your mat, I invite you to notice. Notice how you’re physical and energetic body feels as you begin to implement these different tools of alignment. And if you have an experience, share it with us here in the comments below!
Is there a particular pose you want to see broken down? Let me know here!