With bad form, down-dog could give you pain in your:
Done correctly this inverted pose :
- Allows your brain to be bathed in blood
- Calms your brain and gently stimulates your nerves
- Tones your shoulders and arms
- Lengthens your spine, alleviating back ache
- Creates ease of movement in stiff wrists
- Elongates your entire back body – arms, shoulders, back, hips, hamstrings, calves and Achilles
- Builds the strength foundation for poses such as side planks, handstand and firefly.
Rarely taught as a stand-alone pose, but flowed through several times during sun salutes and vinyasas; Most people don’t have ever been shown the basics of doing it safely.
Surely one of the most talked about yoga poses. I mean everyone’s heard of a down dog haven’t they? Its pretty iconic.
Like most yoga poses you can see a child or animal do it quite naturally!
Image from http://dyanyoga.com/
Image from shawnradcliffe.com
Is Down Dog Dangerous for Beginners?
Down dog is unavoidable in most beginner level yoga classes so it pays to work on your form now. Fortunately, statistically speaking, the most dangerous yoga poses are not down dogs, they are headstands, shoulder-stands and lotuses (Ref 1). Injuries in these poses are way more likely to occur in the more advanced practitioner who just decided to push it too far that day.
Surprisingly though, forward bends and back bends, which will be encountered in all yoga classes, are up there in the Top 5 most injurious poses!
- Lotus and ½ lotus
- Forward Bends
- Back bends
Perhaps it’s not surprising that forward bends are in the Top 5, when you consider that most people with a bulging disc in their spine don’t know that forward bends are the worst things to do (the disc gets more space to bulge out).
If you have a bad back, ease out hamstrings like this:
So if down dog is not a back bend, forward bend or any of the other Top 5, then why is it dangerous for beginners?
A popular yoga calls downward dog the second most popular pose (Lotus is Number 1). If down dog is the most popular pose that beginners will do (assuming they wont do Lotus!) then it must be a simple pose right?
. …. start on all fours and walk your hands a bit forward….slowly lift your knees off the ground… back and….legs straight…..shift…. into a full upside down V position.
Whilst that’s a helpful direction, if left at that, it looks like this:
How Not To Do Down Dog
The curve in Santa’s back is more resembling that of a hunched forward fold than a down dog. This can happen when people with tight hammies straighten their legs in down dog. TIP: If you have tight hamstrings, bend you knees in down dog and work on shoulder and spine alignment (follow the upper body cues on video at bottom of page)! There will always be exceptions but in most yoga poses there’s long term benefits to keeping the natural curve in your spine.
The video below teaches you hoe to do a really great down dog, but if you prefer to read then this teaching from Body Positive Yoga, also covers the bent legs version
Most people attend yoga lessons so that they can be taught the poses that are right for them, and be taught them safely. In a fast-flowing vinyasa or ashtanga class, or during sun salutes, you don’t get the chance to find your form. One study showed that Ashtanga practitioners are three times more likely to get injured when compared to all styles of yoga (Ref 1, Ref 3).
How do I do Down-Dog correctly?
Practice repeatedly with this video and your down dog will soon flow safely into your sun salutes.
Video content courtesy of www.yoga.org.nz
Ref 1: Yoga in Australia: Results of a national survey, Penman et al, Int J Yoga. 2012 Jul-Dec; 5(2): 92–101
Ref 3: A survey of musculoskeletal injury among ashtanga vinyasa yoga practitioners, Mikkonen J et al, Int J Yoga Therap. 2008;18:59–64.