Downward facing dog pose
(or downdog for short) is a basic yet challenging yoga pose that provides numerous benefits. It is a pose that beginners and veterans alike are constantly working on improving. Keeping this in mind, it's normal if your down dog is not a perfectly accomplished work of art. As with any yoga pose, the idea is to work toward
perfection. The benefits lie in the process of getting there, rather than having arrived.
Modify for Safety
To modify down dog for safety, you may wish to keep your knees bent at first, while you are establishing the position. Another priority over straightening your legs is to find the action of your hip joint --it will be a sense of folding, allowing you to bend your body forward toward the floor. To fold at the hips, you could think about raising your sitting bones, which are located at the bottom of your pelvis, up toward the ceiling. This will automatically flex the hip joint deeply (if the muscles at the back of your legs will allow it).
Down dog offers an opportunity to reverse the forces of gravity that normally act on the spine. By pressing your weight into your hands, which are fixed on the floor, you should be able to descend your shoulders down your spine toward your tailbone. They will move up toward the ceiling, while they are going down your spine. Descending your shoulder blades will give the upper back enough stability to allow for a refreshing combination of strengthening and stretching of the muscles there.
How and Why to Descend the Shoulder Blades
A key to this position is to pay attention to your shoulder blades, which are located on the back. Shoulder blades have the capacity to support the upper body. As you begin to get a sense of security with the position, you can try reaching the rest of your body away from your hands, and allow your shoulder blades to descend down your back.
Downward facing dog is a good pose to help reverse the effects of kyphosis. Again, the key is to descend and stabilize those shoulder blades. With your shoulder blades anchored down your back you now have a strong platform against which the upper back muscles can work to extend the spine. Descending the shoulder blades is an action mainly performed by the lats, a big muscle found in the back.
The stretch to the back of the legs when they are completely straight can be quite a doozie! But it is this stretch that offers an opportunity to address flat low back posture. Of course avoiding injury is very important, so gauge how much straightening you need by the feeling. Once you are confident that you are performing all the points of the pose correctly (remember this is not necessarily fully, just correctly), straighten your legs to a point where you know you can maintain the pose, but you feel some challenge in those hamstrings and/or calves. This is the place of work.
Down dog helps to strengthen the deep abdominal muscles, which support low back posture. The action of the hip joint flexing and folding in the front brings the abdominals in close toward the spine, strengthening them.