Downward facing dog preparation

Downward facing dog pose, adho muka svanasana, is one of the most common poses in yoga practice, yet it is also commonly practiced out of alignment. Not only will the misaligned student not benefit from this spine-lengthening, invigorating, heart pose, but s/he may also damage the shoulders.

Last week’s post focused on the half-dog pose, which prepares the  yoga student with correct alignment for the full downward facing dog. This week, we add one more alignment tool, the block between the elbows, before taking the pose into its full expression.

Practice: 

Continuing the work on the forearms, place the block between the elbows, rather than between the hands; knees are on the ground under the hips. Align the lower arms in the same way as for half dog – be especially aware of not placing the hands too close to each other, thereby holding the block up by triangulating the forearms when you are asked to pick it up off the floor.

Block between the elbows – note that the lower arms are no closer than the elbows

Squeeze the block using the elbows, draw the shoulder blades down the spine, and lift the block off the floor while keeping the knees on the ground; engage your core to prevent the lower back from sagging. Notice whether you are engaging the muscles just below the shoulder blades – this is good!

Lift the block using the elbows
Side view of lifting the block – never mind the slippers! 🙂

Continue to practice the above until you can hold the block up and take your knees off the ground, keeping them bent. Shift the shoulders and hips back and keep the abdominals strong.

Block between elbows, knees off the ground – keep the knees bent

The block between the elbows teaches us to externally rotate the upper arm bones, widen the collar bones and to organize the back muscles to flatten the shoulder blades against the back. Informed by the way you used your muscles when holding the block between the elbows, imagine that it’s there, but take the full downward facing dog pose (think: upside down V) – start with knees bent, and straighten the legs only to the point where you are able to maintain the arm alignment, a straight back, and lifted seat bones. If you cannot maintain this alignment with legs straight, then keep them bent – daily practice will eventually allow the legs to straighten.

Downward facing dog pose – start with knees bent, moving belly towards thighs while maintaining the shoulder and arm alignment.

Comments or questions? Write them below!

Happy practicing & namaste,

Sylvia

Author: Sylvia Vitazkova, PhD, CYT

Dr. Sylvia K. Vitazkova is a certified yoga teacher, life coach, horsewoman, and conservation biologist. Sylvia’s formal study of yoga began while she was an undergraduate at Cornell University, and intensified when she began to practice Ashtanga Yoga in 1997 while attending Columbia University for doctoral studies in biology. Sylvia soon realized that she wanted to help others experience the consciousness and transformation that her own practice fostered in her and began to teach in 1998, subsequently studying in Mysore, India, in 2002. Sylvia continues to evolve her practice by learning from senior teachers, the most influential of whom has been Barbara Benagh. Her teaching focus is on correct alignment, the joy of being fully present in one’s body, and the psychological and spiritual context within which the physical practice is embedded. Parallel to being a yoga teacher, Sylvia had a full-time career as a professor of Conservation Biology, having taught undergraduate and graduate courses, including a course she created on nature and spirituality, which brought her two areas of expertise together. She has conducted and published the results of her research on wildlife in the tropics, and has been involved in the creation of a number of conservation studies programs. Sylvia’s experience in mentoring students naturally led her to life coaching, in which she became certified through George Mason University in 2014. A lifelong connection with horses has been woven throughout these experiences, from her first pony while a child in Africa, to teaching at riding camp in the U.S., then Claremont Riding Academy in NYC, to the current and ongoing exploration of how yoga can be a tool for better and more connected riding. Sylvia now leads InBodied Living LLC, a wellbeing organization and consultancy, with her partner, James Houston. 

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