Asana Anatomy Downward Facing Dog

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By Dr. Robin Armstrong • May 13th, 2008 • 27644 Views

Asana Anatomy Downward Facing Dog
Imagine the heart floating downward, opening the chest, and introducing the shoulder blades to each other by bringing the blades down and together on our backs, activating our triangle shaped trapezius muscle.

Now expand through the inner body, growing long through the side body, lengthening the oblique muscles of the core and the intercostals muscles between the ribs. Imagine the space between each rib growing. Check in with your front ribs. The action of uddiyana bandha, tucking in and up of the belly button, flattens the lower belly engaging transversus abdominus, but should also bring the lower ribs in.

Lower Body
As the hips move up and back, imagine an inward spiral of the groin muscles. Keeping that inward rotation, gently tuck the tailbone under, aiding the engagement of the transversus abdominus. The adductor muscles of the inner thighs move towards each other, as if holding a block between the thighs. Lengthen from the attachment of the hamstrings at the sitting bone, all the way through the gastroc and soleus muscles of the calves. There is a co-ordinated opposite action here of active lengthening through the calves, countered by the active dorsi flexion of the foot by the tibialis anterior on the front of the shin.

Benefits & Considerations
Downward Facing Dog requires a lot of openness through the chest and shoulders. If you are unable to raise your arms to at least the level of your face, you should consider one of the variations below.
Childs pose / Balasana: Sitting back on your heels, stretch your arms out in front of you. Use the same action of the arms as above, but childs pose allows you to control the influence of gravity without over extending at the shoulders
• Modified Downward Facing dog at the wall: Stand in front of the wall with your hands on the wall, shoulder width, slightly below shoulder height. Keeping your feet hip distance, slowly back away from the wall, using the same principles of alignment as above but slowly moving into an open chest and shoulder girdle.

If you are unable to correct a pinching sensation in the front of your shoulder, it is possible you may have impingement in your shoulder joint and should consult a health practitioner familiar with yoga.
Conversely, because Downward Facing Dog requires this level of openness through the shoulders it can be a great shoulder and chest opener. It is important that we do not sag into the anatomy however. We must keep the active actions in the shoulders, then once aligned, open to the pose. Downward Facing Dog can also be a source of relief for people with mid-back or lower back pain. The muscles that attach from the skull to the pelvis, the erector spinae group, are lengthened actively. In addition, with the arms overhead in this position, the latisimus dorsi muscles, attaching from the ribs and fascia of the lower spine into to the arms, are lengthened.

Now Breathe
Downward Facing Dog is foundational pose that brings us back to our centre. It can act as our home base, where we check in with our alignment in a very active and functional way. There are few poses more powerful than a well-aligned Downward Facing Dog that is fueled by a steady flow of breath.

Dr. Robin Armstrong has combined her decade of experience as both a Chiropractor & Yoga Instructor to develop a unique type of yoga therapy known as Yoga Rehab, blending traditional yoga practices with modern rehab exercise to help students overcome pain and injury. She has shared her knowledge of yoga injury prevention and anatomy with the Canadian Press, American Council of Exercise, Impact, and Alive magazines as well as many local yoga teacher training programs. She practices at YYoga Downtown Flow studio in Vancouver, Canada.


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Dr. Robin Armstrong

Location:  Vancouver, CA

Dr. Robin has combined her decade of experience as both a Chiropractor & Yoga Instructor to develop a unique type of yoga therapy known as Yoga Rehab, blending traditional yoga practices with modern rehab exercise to...