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Season 1 - Episode 6

Basics of Downward Facing Dog

25 min - Tutorial


Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) shows up in so many yoga classes and it's not as easy as some make it look. With Jacqui's help, Kira shows how we can practice the small parts that make up the posture to allow for greater ease and play within the shape.
What You'll Need: Wall

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Welcome back. Thanks for being here and thank you Jackie for joining us. Now as we look today on to the practice of downward facing dog, you might know it as Adho Mukha Svanasana. Please keep in mind that my friend Jackie has been practicing for 20 plus years. So not only was she born with the yoga body but she's got a lot of practice and so just know that as we look at this the purpose here is to start to offer techniques, ways of practicing, ways of looking and being within yourself so that you can find a more comfortable relationship with these postures. This is never about achievement as as soon as we're about achieving something we're ahead of ourselves. It can look like it's about achievement but it's not. So just so that we're on the same page to begin with my friend Jackie's gonna show what downward facing dog usually looks like and I've just asked her to come into it however she wants. So pretty. So first of all just Adho Mukha Svanasana. Adho downward Mukha facing Svanasana dog. The places that we're gonna attend to today in our sequence is how to be able to find a nice long line okay through the sideways. How to work with the shoulders so that they're comfortable. How to work with the wrists as you can see right here Jackie's asking her wrists to bear a lot of weight. How to work with that and we'll tune a little bit to the situation of the hamstrings. What you can see is that because of how Jackie's designed and her time with the practice it's quite easy for her to find an opening here to find a flat back and actually find her heels quite close to the floor. This is not so usual because my friend Jackie will show if you if you've got tighter shoulders you'll tend to be a little bit more rounded and hunched up in here okay. If you've got tighter stickier tighter really is a false word. If your hamstrings feel sticky okay your heels won't touch the floor and you'll get a lot of rounding and stretching in the back. So this might be what your down dog looks like and might always be what your down dog looks like truly. What we're gonna do today is just see if we can play a little bit with finding more comfort. Okay thanks friend. Will you find Uttanasana? So the way we'll begin is we'll begin standing and with the shoulders and so when Jackie's ready she'll roll on up and I'll have you stand on that side. So just we'll start by just getting a little bit of baby shoulder shrug. So Jackie will you just show rolling your shoulders up around your ears and then letting them drop and then rolling your shoulders up and around your ears again and then letting them drop and just continue that a couple more times. Just let this feel good like just let yourself find those shoulders up and around the ears and as you drop them find some ease. Maybe two more in this direction. Mm-hmm drop nice and one more and then if your shoulders allow it reverse now try that squeeze your shoulders back and up and around the ears super sweet and drop and back and up and super sweet and just maybe about three or four more just to start to let the shoulders know that you care and sometimes this is one of the problems with the yoga practice sometimes you start feeling so good already that you stop. So for some of you at home it'll be like oh that's that's good. From here then once you've gotten a little bit more room around the shoulders once you have a sense of that we're gonna play against the wall today to help us get a relationship with this rotation and this length. So Jackie what I'll ask you to do is stand by the wall and then see if you can slide your hand up just to maybe where like 11 o'clock is and pause. Does that make sense? Okay the reason we're starting at 11 o'clock is because not every shoulder goes beyond this okay and so the play here is as you bring your hand up the wall can you let your elbow bend just a little bit so the shoulder can drop back down into the socket. Just like let that feel relaxed and so for some of you at home this might be deep enough this might be as far as the shoulder really appropriately wants to go. Only if it's okay start to let your hand creep up maybe more towards 12 o'clock. Now to use analog numbers to describe things is really going out of fashion fast so if 12 o'clock doesn't make sense straight up towards the sky. And now here does that feel okay? The play here is as you let your shoulder relax back and down just see if you can root a little bit through your feet and creep the hand up the wall just a little bit more see if you can find this this sideways stretch through here and see if you can get a sense maybe of breathing into here. Like can you let this area of your back of your lungs feel broader? Because here's the point if you can feel this standing okay it'll be much easier to start to sense it when you're upside down. This is one of the difficulties with inversions is suddenly everything's all turned upside down. So playing with this does that how's that feel? Now for most of you this 12 o'clock stretch and this length here is enough. For some of you if you want to get a little bit of opening through the chest which isn't totally necessary for downward-facing dog but can feel good you can just start to walk your hand back a little bit maybe more towards one o'clock for some of you. Does that make sense? Can you feel that stretch? And so you just start to play just a little bit and don't go too far you just give a little bit of rooting through the hand see if you can roll the corresponding hip forward. Let this other shoulder roll back and down last few moments softer in the neck so nice. Can you see how this is similar to what we're gonna be needing down dog to do? Okay then when you're ready Jackie either relax the hand and let it come behind you or bring it back in front of you whichever feels more comfortable and pause. Okay and so after you've done that like make sure that's okay because if the shoulder doesn't like to do that okay without any weight bearing then weight bearing might not be so awesome. Does that feel all right? Okay let's do the other side. So you'll do the other side turn around other side of the wall find your feet and then as you're ready start just to slow on this side so Jackie's gonna let on Jackie this is her left arm on you it might be your right arm and just pause at that first point okay now and just let the hand know it's funny because now as I'm looking at Jackie now it looks like one o'clock but because you can see you get the idea okay just get the sense of is this okay for the shoulder and I'm gonna try to show this without blocking Jackie she's gonna let her elbow bend and her shoulder relax back and down yeah so that this is stays soft so you get a sense of extension with some ease and so for some of you this might be deep enough if you're feeling that sort of numbing pinching and you can no longer feel your hand you can stop now okay so only if it feels okay she's gonna let her hand walk more towards 12 o'clock that feel all right and then once you're at 12 o'clock try rooting through the foot and lengthening yes and the play here is how to create length and also softness here letting this sideways get long so as you let this sideways get long you're getting good at breathing into this lung into these ribs finding this space so this so that you can access this then later yeah so pretty now for most of you this is deep enough this is already demanding enough I mean very little in life right asks that you do this like most people make their living with their hands here so this is not usual so for some of you this is enough but for Jackie and some of you you might just walk your hand back a little bit that will create this nice stretch through the front okay if you roll that corresponding hip forward that's okay you'll feel more and if you play with letting this shoulder roll back you'll feel just a little bit more again soft in the mouth and the eyes like always so nice beautiful beautiful I feel like the same amount of time score okay so you're gonna either release by letting the arm come behind you or letting it come back out in front of you and then just pause and just feel what just happened and make sure that's okay like again it's a thing that the posture is about the posture right like cuts us off from the mine the beautiful minute details so this might be enough of the posture today okay now to address a little bit in the hamstrings before we continue in the shoulders and the wrist I'm gonna ask you to turn and place your buttocks right on the wall and let your feet come slightly out in front of you the play here now is as we get into the hamstrings and I'm gonna join my friend the play here is inhale and as you exhale just let your hands come down just to where the knees and the thighs meet and now pause and just feel into what the the pelvis is doing okay and then see how it feels oh and Jackie's done a really nice thing she's rounded her pelvis so I'm just gonna show in this way just so you can maybe see a little better she's actually drawn her sit bones under and she's rounding and so now see if you can do the opposite see how it feels to bend the knees a little bit and roll the pelvis forward so pretty Jackie so the heart comes forward this is more in line with what it's gonna feel like in down dog in the hamstrings and so maintaining that pelvis forward in that heart open then start to let the hands slide down the legs only as far as feels appropriate beautiful okay now again Jackie's been playing in the realm of yoga for 20 years and before that she was an ice skater let the head drop okay and so as her as her as her as her pelvis rolls forward and her sit bones draws up you know she's getting a nice stretch in her hamstrings you might be choosing to bend your knees a little bit back in the neck as long you're just getting used to what it's like in there okay beautiful you can see how Jackie has such great sensitivity she lets her head wobble a little bit she keeps her neck soft super nice then when you're ready you'll let your knees bend chin into the chest and you'll roll on back up and pause because at a certain age when you come back up sometimes you get a little dizzy just pause it's like a cabin pressure change so now already right the parts of down dog you've done you've done the extensions of the arms and you've done the legs so so you're already a lot of it's already there and you've also gone upside down you've already done a bit of an inversion it takes a little bit to get used to the head dropping below so again we're on baby steps so down dog because it's so overused there can be a sense that it's a really easy posture we're just breaking it down today the next thing we're gonna do is start to get a sense of the wrist so I'm gonna ask you to turn to face the wall thanks friend and you're gonna bring your hands up against the wall so that your elbows are bent about 90 degrees and don't put your heels of the palms on the wall just yet just start with your fingertips okay because the compression of the wrist is a lot and actually not every wrist likes that so as you spread your fingers wide the quality to start to tune to is one of melting the wrists it's like can you let a sense of the hands being watery and can you actually start to a sense of I'm gonna use that word again melt the hands into the wall so you're not jamming or pressing you're just allowing them to widen and spread and just getting used to this and sometimes one wrist will feel more compressed or munchy than another there's again don't let the tyranny of symmetry get you down just let it feel wide mm-hmm and you can see like that Jackie's chosen to not put the full heel of her palm on the wall maybe you can see that maybe not some of you might be more on the fingertips you're just getting used to this remember now one little detail to track here and I'm gonna ask Jackie to actually set her heels up just a little underneath her shoulders so it's easier oh no I meant forward sorry yes just so slightly pull down on the fingertips a little bit and as you pull down on the fingertips that will allow your shoulder blades the tips of the shoulder blades to drop back and down and it will allow the heart to lift and so this is just a nice way to start to get a sense of how to how to let the heart feel more open because sometimes when we're down and upside down it can get compressed does that feel okay it's beautiful okay from here we're gonna make our way into what we sometimes call wall dog sometimes right angle so Jackie's gonna start to slide the heels of her fingertips down or palms down so she finds a 90 degree angle at the wall so you can do the same thing and now okay can you see how you're starting to move into the shape of down dog because you've got the compression of the wrist you've got the stretch of the hamstrings you can see how Jackie's body more naturally wants to sink down into the heart so just notice what your body wants to do do you want to sink here okay do you tend to round here in the interest of getting a sense of maintaining some extension though as you spread the fingers wide and you allow yourself to start to lengthen do you remember when we were at the wall can you lengthen this one side so on Jackie this happens to be her left side can you lengthen your left side more do you remember how to breathe into that side yeah okay so as you as you breathe into that side so pretty can you allow that to open and then let your awareness come to the other side so then on Jackie it's her right breathing yes and can you see what's happening as she's breathing into this side this starts to widen a little bit yeah okay a couple more moments make it make it like both back and forth between both sides thank you for your patience friend back and forth between both sides and if your hamstrings aren't quite like Jackie's bend your knees a little bit bend your knees a little bit and lengthen yeah okay now take a break from their uttanasana just let your knees bend let your hands float down to meet the toes and paws okay so that's really close to downward facing dog you've got this right angle you've got wrist compression you've got hamstring stretching you've got extension and if going upside down isn't correct for you because of maybe young glaucoma or other mischief this might be the down dog that works best okay chin into your chest love let yourself roll back up pretty and let's repeat that one more time is that seem okay okay so set yourself back up at your wall we'll do this one more time set up with your fingertips about in line with your hips get a sense of that little bit of traction roll the shoulders back and down and lengthen melt the hands melt the hands like this is not usual and then as you're ready and only as you're ready you'll start to walk back and you'll come into the right angle pose also sometimes we call it wall dog we change the names of things around here okay and the play here because you're not bearing weight right now so because you're not bearing weight you can learn how to root and lengthen and extend and breathe and do that on one side so beautiful Jackie and do that on the other side gorgeous and let your knees soften if it feels good to get out could you get a little bit more rotation in the hips yeah now if you have hamstrings like Jackie you might let your legs be straight couple more beats and again you can see Jackie's natural inclination because she's bendy is to allow this to bend you might this might be a little rounder on you it's okay this is a practice of self-awareness not self-achievement okay when you've had enough of this the request now is to let your knees bend come down into utta nasana again and then I'm gonna ask my friend Jackie to find child's pose unrest okay so we're making our way towards something now that we call lobster dog what we're gonna do is we're gonna bring the hands at the wall in this shape what this does this rotation of the wrist okay because it allows the shoulders to rotate more easily it'll take some of the pressure out of the shoulder joint and I'll take some of the compression out of the wrist maybe you know these tips and tricks only work sometimes okay my friend Jackie will you please bring your hands to the wall and she's gonna be bringing your hands to the wall and separating her thumb and her index finger okay now she's gonna set up she's gonna let her elbows relax her shoulders roll back and down and her head drop and just make sure that this actually feels comfortable because we're starting to move into the weight-bearing part of the practice only as you feel ready you'll tuck your toes under you'll lift your hips and then you're rooting into the hands on the wall to lengthen back into downward facing dog now you can see the Jackie's chosen a pretty this isn't a judgment but she's chosen a short dog okay like you can see so you some of you might choose a slightly longer dog see how she's stepping her feet back a little bit which will allow you to get more length okay and will allow you to get more length through the legs and a little less stretch in the legs it's just a different play you'll feel it more in your Achilles if you're a little shorter okay so a couple more moments here okay has that feel okay getting used to the sense of rooting and lengthening and using your wall for support and it's a little less demanding on your shoulders and your wrists do you agree okay she agrees okay and then rest child's pose let your knees drop down and take a breath and let your arms come down along your side and as your arms come down along your side try curling your fingertips in a little bit so you're stretching the wrist the opposite way and if you happen to have a buddy at home this okay you might ask them to press on to your back gently and and just a little traction through the neck okay let's try that one more time just so it's clear what we call lobster dog so you set up your hands come at the wall you're separating your thumb and your index finger let your elbows bend just enough so your shoulders roll back and down tuck the toes under and only as you're ready root let the wall help you let the wall help you as you get a sense of lengthening on one side breathing lengthening maybe rooting and lengthening on the other so pretty you might let your knees bend you might walk your dog off a little bit okay so this again this is a way to start to play with dog where you have some support you are burying some weight it's a little less intense on the wrist it's a little less intense in the shoulders super sweet okay child's pose and so here this might be the version of dog that makes the most sense for you and you might stick with this for a while just getting used to this okay because obviously in a weight-bearing pose it matters how much weight you're bearing so again that might be the dog you work with for a while that's weight-bearing that's getting your wrists used to it your shoulders your hamstrings and and for some of you perfect okay because again if in a weight-bearing pose a lot of it matters on how much weight you're bearing okay if it's time to start to play a little bit towards a little bit more compression in the wrist then Jackie and I'll show you perhaps what might be the next step so Jackie will roll up thanks friend she'll turn around and just first step is set yourself up on all fours and I'll stand so that we're not crowding each other so just and actually will you come a little further just to make sure so you set yourself up on all fours and as you set yourself up all fours do you remember that feeling at the wall where you were melting your hands so melt your hands here and and again even though classically you know the in the photo the full wrists is on the earth maybe not I find myself often playing with down dog up on my fingertips so experiment so melt the hands you'll let your elbows bend just a little bit as the shoulders roll back and down and then if it's comfortable what I like to usually do is root through the index knuckle finger somehow that just feels correct that may or may not work for you get used to this get used to letting the hands start to be heavy relax the back of the neck and do you remember that little brightening we did at the wall where you had that tiny little sense of traction of drawing the arms back and letting the heart bloom yeah pretty Jackie let that happen some of you might stay here step two perhaps for some of you is plank pose you'll tuck the toes under you'll lift up through the backs of the legs reaching back through the heels remember the brightening in the heart from here then you'll allow your sit bones to draw back towards downward facing dog so beautiful and as you come into downward facing dog do you remember how to lengthen on one side uh-huh do you remember how to lengthen on the other do you remember how to let your heels get heavy so pretty Jackie and again as you remember Jackie's just naturally more bendy so this is is it's okay it's perfect it's beautiful this is just more natural for her for some of you this might be a little rounder a couple more moments root lengthen bloom and breathe yes and then rest child's pose if you're new to these postures so much better to take it in bite-size when we when we overdo it in the beginning all we do is communicate back into the nervous system that yoga is a stressful situation okay and part of the player these little bite-sized moments getting used to things getting used to things getting as our teacher shipments as acclimatized we show them one more time so just one more time maybe as you're playing with down dog you come up on to all fours you let your fingers spread wide melt your hands let your elbows bend enough so your shoulders relax back and down and just kind of like look at your hands and something that I always find helps is if you take a moment to appreciate your hands like take a moment to look at your hands and really like can you feel grateful okay not all of you might have both of your hands but if you do and even the one you might have like really like say thank you and then once you've said thank you then usually just like all of us they're willing to give more okay then only as you're ready you'll tuck the toes under you'll lift up through the backs of the legs plank get used to bearing this weight and then only as you're ready lengthen your sit bones back towards downward facing nog so pretty yes and again like if you let one side lengthen and let the other usually that helps wiggle around like watch watch your yogi friends practice because when you really hang out with yogis they're wigglers they like to lengthen they like to move into things the problem with photography is it gives the illusion that there's one place you want to be and when you hang out with people and you practice you see this is a moving situation so pretty thank you Jackie when you feel done child's pose and you can stay in child's pose okay and so baby steps baby steps just because down dog almost appears in every yoga class ever doesn't mean it's easy thanks for being here thanks for messing around let us know what works for you love


Deb C
so grateful to you Kira. Managed to be comfortable and light in down dog, which is not always easy. Thank you.
Catie R
I was able to find so much more space in addition to feeling the strength of my body. Thank you for sharing this practice with us!
Kira Sloane
Dearest Catie, so happy to hear this and glad you are here! xok
Angela J
1 person likes this.
I am looking forward to trying this I have neglected my yoga because I get a lot of pain in my wrists and I can't do down dog which has upset me greately as i was enjoying my journey.
Kira Sloane
Angela, for sure, please take good care of your delicate and very important wrists. Dolphin (essentially down dog on the forearms) is a great alternative! Honor invaluable the information your body gives you. Love, Kira
Sara S
1 person likes this.
That helped my shoulders so much! I appreciate the info on Glaucoma
Kira Sloane
Sara S Hi! Love!

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