When I first started doing yoga, I thought downward facing dog was one of the most uncomfortable poses to do. My shoulders would get tired and my wrists would hurt. We also seemed to hold it for what felt like hours! I was confused when the teacher said, “Take a rest in downward dog.” This was rest!? Don’t they know that I am a beginner? Child’s pose and I became well acquainted.
Since that time I have come to enjoy those few extra breathes in downward facing dog as a recovery pose. However, I have never forgotten what it feels like to be a beginner in a yoga class. Here at our local yoga studio, we wanted to show you a few ways you can modify your downward dog to relieve the discomfort or even just to try a new a sensation in a familiar pose (asana).
Here are two of the common concerns we hear from our students.
Shoulder and arm fatigue
Downward facing dog is a weight bearing pose, so you will need to develop some strength before it starts to feel comfortable. You will develop this strength by practicing regularly at your nearby yoga studio or at home. However, when you find yourself in downward facing dog, you should be using your legs equally, if not more, than your arms! Oftentimes our beginner yoga students are concerned about keeping their legs straight. This is understandable because that is the model they see. Because the hamstrings or the low back might be less flexible though, their hips shift forward and all of the weight is dumped into the shoulders. This becomes tiring rather quickly as it feels more like plank! So what is the trick?
Bend your knees! Bending your knees will allow you to press your hips back further bringing the weight back into your legs. The shoulders and neck can relax and the low back will feel much better. In time you might be able to straighten the legs a bit more. Everyone’s body will take a different shape, so learn to accept where you are in your practice.
Wrist flexibility and strength is fundamental to vinyasa yoga and most other physical regimens. Overuse or increasing activity levels too quickly might cause soreness or limit what you can do. If you ever start to feel pain, you should stop and take some time off. Come back to your practice slowly and prevent this discomfort by using either a yoga wedge or blocks under your hands. The wedge is helpful because it decreases the flexion required in the wrist, but it supports the hand so that you are still stable in table pose or downward facing dog. If you do not have a yoga wedge, try grabbing your blocks. Even though I am not a beginner anymore, I still use the blocks under my hands in some classes. It just feels really nice in my legs and back, and it can make step-throughs a lot easier. You should give it a try!
Check out the video to see what we mean about bending your knees and using props to modify your downward facing dog pose.