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Finding Stillness in Downward Dog

Finding Stillness in Downward Dog

We’ve been here time and time again; pedaling it out – wagging our tails – passing through salutations. It’s easy to find a movement, even the tiniest bit, when in downward dog, but slowing it down and finding the complete stillness brings a different kind of challenge. Down dog, arguably one of the most common yoga postures, is known by yogis and non-yogis alike. We frequently settle here during the warm-up and revisit this pose over and over during our yoga flow. Though we aren’t always aware of this, downward dog is in fact integrated into the flow as a resting posture. So how are we actually supposed to set ourselves up comfortably enough to find stillness? We’re going to break it down piece by piece.

The easiest way to do this is to start from the ground and work our way up.

  1. Begin by checking the distance between your hands and feet. Too far and you’ll find yourself working extra hard in the core to keep in line.
  2. Conversely, if you’re too close, you will feel a much more aggressive stretch of the posterior chain (shoulder joints, back extensors, hamstrings, and calves).
  3. To find the optimal spacing, bring yourself into a high plank; wrists are directly under the shoulders and legs are propped out at their natural and comfortable distance.
  4. From this position, simply lift the hips up and back.
  5. Your foundational distance is set.

FYI: it’s hard to stay still in an aggressive stretch for too long.

With your hand and feet placement set, your next goal is to find an even weight distribution through all four limbs. This balance is crucial to finding stillness instead of constantly shifting from one direction to the next.

  1. Let’s work from our palms to our pelvis first.
  2. Rooting through the palms, find yourself grounding down at the finger knuckles, not the heels of your hands. Ever encountered wrist pain? This trick will protect those little wrists.
  3. Hands rooted, your next move is to find an external rotation of the upper arms; this means moving the crease of your elbows, so it faces forward.
  4. Find your shoulder blades pulling down your back, giving you all sorts of space around your neck.
  5. Draw your navel into your spine while creating the length of the spine and strength throughout your entire abdominal cavity at the same time.
  6. And we have made it to your pelvis, the fulcrum of your down dog.

We’ve worked through the upper half of our body—let’s move to the lower half.

  1. Our heels are always trying to root to the floor, but depending on your ankle mobility it may not happen.
  2. Ensure that even if your heels don’t touch, you are still driving your weight through the heels versus the balls of the feet.
  3. Your heels should be dropping straight down so that if you look back at your feet, they’re hidden.
  4. Activate your quads by spiraling your thigh bones towards each other.
  5. Let the front side of your legs do more work, while the back sides stretch out.
  6. Making it to the pelvis from the lower half up, you want to find an anterior tilt.
  7. By tilting the tailbone, it lengthens the hamstrings and calves.
  8. Tailbone pointing to the sky, you should feel a synergistic balance between your upper and lower body.

Check out this amazing video to see how these moves are demonstrated by a certified teacher.

Finding the perfect stillness comes after you’ve shaken out all the stale bits and settled into this perfect posture. Spread your fingers and toes wide as you press through all four limbs, lift the pelvis high, and let the opposite halves your body stretch away.