written by Trevor Lohr (student in the 200 hr YTT)
Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
I still often wonder, especially in the beginning of my practice, how can this pose be a resting pose? Early on with everything so tight, I feel like I just need to warm up the hips and shoulders to get the back straight. So there’s a lot of movement and fluidity to wake things up-which is great, a good way to settle into that sweet spot. But as I reach hips back and up, rotate thighs internally, and open the shoulders with external rotation, and ground the heels and pronate the forearms pressing down with the corners of the palms and draw the navel in to the spine, I find my mind flitting to and fro throughout the body. It seems like when I make one movement, another comes undone or loosens, and I’m not settled and definitely not resting. There is a lot going on in down dog! And I haven’t even gotten to breath and bandha work yet.
I want to draw attention to the roots of the foundation of this pose. The hands and feet are the only connection to the earth in down dog and so all the balance and alignment really rests on them. Engaging the subtle intrinsic muscles of the palm and foot is essential for the integration of the whole arm and leg. The proper alignment of the spine flows naturally when the supports are strong and stabilized. When the spine is cradled comfortably inverted in its neutral position like this, Earth’s gravity works wonders by inviting space and the flow of prana along the backbone and abdomen.
How to do the pose:
- Let’s focus on the hands. Root through the inner edge. In Table pose, rotate arms internally, feel base of the index finger root strongly. Exaggerate the action, let the pinkie side feel light. Keep forearms pronated, lightly return outer edge of the hand back down as upper arms rotate externally to open up shoulders.
- Curl fingertips to mat without lifting knuckles, feel the tension in center of palm. Maintain that tension, and pull back on fingertips so that fingers extend flat into the mat, and squeeze outer edges of the hands in. Knuckles, base of fingers and wrist are all flat, but there is a subtle tension in the palm like a suction cup.
Put these actions together to activate the intrinsic muscles of the hand. Focus on the same feeling in the feet by pressing into the outer edges and engaging the arch.
Keep the attention steadily on these roots, as if you were sending a thirsty tendril down into the earth from each firmly engaged extremity. Allow the rest of the pose to grow naturally upward from the foundation. Rest in your strong, rooted limbs.
Adho Mukha Svanasana invites us to dig in and be still, and to listen deeply to the body’s wisdom. Focusing on a strong foundation invites ease and space within ourselves and in the world.