(Adho mukha svanasana)
This is a posture you probably spend most time in throughout your whole practice. It’s fundamental then, that we get as much out of it as possible. It can be an incredible panacea for the back or simply a ‘hanging out in the hamstrings’.
Let’s make it work for you!
Ideally, the posture works the shoulder girdle – in other words the upper-back or thoracic spine, where the arms ultimately attach and are controlled by use of the shoulder blades and surrounding muscles.
Of course, it’s a good posture for lengthening out tight hamstrings and releasing tension in the lower back, but the real magic is in freeing up the muscles we use when moving our arms, which also includes a lengthening of muscles around the neck and the very upper-back.
You want to get stronger arm balances and handstand? Then work efficiently in down-dog and all is coming. So, let’s get started!
- When you first step back into the position, try coming up onto your tip-toes and as you come back down, press down with the foot, lifting up your inner ankles by trying to squeeze the heels apart and pull the mat taught. Now try to reach down through the front of your thighs and drag the heels back. This will protect your hamstrings and release your lower back.
- The fundamental action in the legs, most importantly, will allow you to lengthen through the shoulder blades, releasing upper-back muscles as you reach forward through the hands in opposition against the dragging back of the thighs. Imagine you’re reach over a giant beach-ball, hollowing your body, with the thighs on one side and the armpits over the other.
- In this way the shoulders will also naturally be pulled back-and-down, away from the ears. Now, keeping your hands straight, really spread your fingers, tuck your chin in, and (this is the key part!), as you exhale, pull the belly into the spine whilst really reaching forward into the hands, squeezing the heels apart and pulling back with the legs.
It will feel like your rounding your upper back, you’re not really, what you are doing is, as you work the diaphragm with the stomach-endearment (bandhas), you are encouraging a natural ‘ebb and flow’ or articulation of the all the muscles of the upper back as you breath in and out.
This is the super-tool of the way paying careful attention to the movement if the breath when you’re in the posture can make all the difference. Downward dog, due to the easy access of this powerful way of using the diaphragm to breath is also the best place to start to learn this technique.