Downward Facing Dog requires the shoulders to be in flexion and external rotation.

Downward Facing Dog requires the shoulders to be in flexion and external rotation.

The dreaded down dog blog. Downward Facing Dog or Adho Mukha Svanasana.  I’ve been thinking about writing this blog for a couple of years.  Like my healthy eating, it comes and goes. The time has come to share thoughts and create a conversation about this complicated pose, but I don’t want to create anti-ahimsa and asana arguments.  I am, after all, a yoga teacher.

That being said, I think this dreaded down dog blog needs to happen because I am a yoga teacher.  I put people in this pose.  I practice this pose. I teach level 1 classes and therapeutic, functional movement in my classes.  Regardless of the class title, many students show up with body blind spots (areas of the body that have been abused, misused, overused, or areas of the body that are just plain confused) and there is a lot of confusion when it comes to downward facing dog.   I want to share some information I have found helpful in both my teaching and practicing of this pose.  So here we go:

Always warm up the shoulders before practicing or teaching DD.
Down dog is not a resting pose. *(see below for more on this).
Have options for your students.  There are many options.
Om shanti needs to occur in your shoulders, not just in your heart.

Muscles of the shoulder complex are attached to your head, back, rib cage & elbow!
Upper arm bone, shoulder blade & collar bone are the 3 bones of your shoulder girdle.
Killer shoulder stability and mobility, awesome.  Killing your shoulders, not awesome.
Head of your humerus (upper arm bone) rests in the glenoid fossa.
All directions of movement of your shoulders should be explored for healthy shoulders.

Svanasana not SAVASANA.  Yes, I’ve heard that in a class.  Downward facing corpse?
Very happy spines are neutral spines.  DD is a neutral spine.
Arms overhead is shoulder FLEXION, not shoulder extension.
Never forget shoulders are externally rotated in DD, but there’s so much more.
Always remember all shoulders are unique.  It always depends on the person.
Stabilize shoulder joint with co-contraction of your external and internal rotators.
Actions of rotator cuff muscles in DD stabilize head of the humerus in glenoid fossa.
Need the simplest warm up ever for shoulders?  Shoulder flossing.
Angry shoulders result in angry elbows which result in angry wrists which result in…

DD is not a resting pose.  It’s just my opinion.  But the more I learn, the more I think I have a great opinion here.  I do not leave students in DD to rest.  I do not leave students there to warm up.   I see students struggling in this pose because it’s a VERY difficult pose.  I don’t know when it became the go-to resting pose.  I’ve taken so many classes lately, from level 1 to advanced, and so many teachers put the class in DD as the first or second pose.  I see people suffering, straining, and fidgeting in the pose because our daily lives don’t require we spend a lot of time in shoulder flexion, especially loaded shoulder flexion. (Remember arms overhead is shoulder flexion, not extension.) Please stop teaching extend your arms overhead.  At least consider it.  I talk with students before and after class and I am reminded how we all spend too much time on the computer and not enough time reaching to the very top cupboard for that cute dish we forgot we even had.  I know in my own practice, even after several years of practicing, I don’t experience DD as a resting pose.  I love the pose, but I know how much work I need to do to be in DD for an extended period of time.   And I still don’t want to be in DD to “rest.”  And for the love of God, Guru, Ghandi, Shiva, Hello Kitty or whatever else you believe in, don’t put me in DD for 108 breaths and then give me a rest in child’s pose for three breaths and then repeat DD for 108 more breaths.  That’s 219 breaths with shoulders in flexion 😉 Om shanti shoulders, remember???!!!

Come back Friday for my favorite shoulder warm up that is a great downward dog prep!

 

Enjoyed this article? Read Downward Dog is Not For Everyone

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Katherine

Yes, DD might feel like rest compared to a hundred chaturangas. But when you consider all the muscles from head to shoulder to toe that need to be engaged to perform it well, it becomes clear it can’t possibly be a resting pose. Full body activation! It’s a great pose for assessing body blind spots and release valves. Thanks for the reminder, I’ll never call this a resting pose again.

Diana Azavedo

Yet another amazing article. I simply love how you write. Making every word and sentence so easy to grasp. And yes shoulders in DD need a lot more circulation and warming up before attempting this pose. Love that you highlighted a neutral spine as well. Thank you for an overall educative article on one of the most important poses in a yoga class. It is usually taken for granted, however there is so much to this one pose. and it is definitely not a resting pose!

Adeline

Once again, thank you for this article. I have often felt that DD is an advanced pose, and yet it is often taught in beginner classes, when everyone has not idea what and how to do the pose, much less what is going on in their shoulders, neck, head, spine and legs.

Rianna Reid

Love the title, love the acronym! Great tips and well-thought out! Glad you “finally” wrote it, it was a need-to-read for anyone who overuses/improperly uses this pose:) thanks!!

Katy Loomis

I love this! I really make sure the shoulders are primed and ready to see if the body is ready for this pose. It creates a great conversation with students for noticing how their shoulders flex and externally rotate and how to use that information when they leave the studio.

jordana

Amen! As a teacher and student I’m always thrown off when a class moves right into a downward facing dog. As mentioned, for some students, this isnt even an ideal or appropriate pose-modifications with knees down (puppy) or half dog at the wall are far better, as they reduce or eliminate the force of gravity and enable the student to begin to access the proper alignment more easily-without weight bearing down on them (you can access DD arms and shoulders in childs pose!). This is a highly complex pose just in the shoulder joint, not to mention establishing the neutral… Read more »

Jesse Fairbanks

Great advice and perspective. I agree down dog is not a resting position and I have heard that time and time again “rest back into down dog” what? My shoulders are on fire we just did 20 minutes of sun salutations and arm support poses. People need to earn the ability to do this pose.

Nicole

Thank you for sharing and spreading the awareness! There is such little focus on the correct alignment and proper muscle engagement needed for a downward facing dog and yet we do so many. Shoulder injuries are almost guaranteed to happen over the course of a couple years or even months if we are not mindful.

Dima Korya

I completely agree that downward dog is not a resting pose. I have been doing downward wrong for so many years until I took a yoga tune up class and realized just how hard the pose really is and how dangerous it can be to sink in your shoulders.

Kim Salisbury

Great information that DD is not a resting pose. If you are doing it correctly there is no rest about it. The problem is because it is offered so much people end up resting and then dumping into the joint and then follow it up with 108 Chaturangas. Then we are in BIG shoulder trouble.

Eileen

Hand placement can be very important in down dog, and I’ve had the opportunity to learn from several teachers who have offered such great modifications. I agree, for so many people, this is not a resting pose. Great article.

Sandy Ahlensdorf

Terry – “Om Shanti Shoulders” is the most memorable phrase of the article! Such a vivid cue to remind me that although I am working very hard in DD – I can find balance in the strength and alignment. I also love that you are strong in your opinions and your demands from classes. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and strength!

Olga

It was a resting pose for long time, until my first YTU class. I was literally shocked how difficult and dangerous Downward dog can be. Thanks for the article

Emilie Goldstein Mikulla

Yes! Downdog is not a resting pose! If you want to rest, take Child’s Pose or Tadasana. Often times students are ill prepared in their joints to get into the pose (especially if all you’re asked to do is sit a few minutes and then bust a DD!). I love the YTU Pelvic Primer series to prepare the hips for DD, spinal undulation and a few of the shoulder poses, such as Pranic Breath and shoulder flossing. Many students also compromise their spine for the sake of getting the heels to the ground. It’s OK for your heals to lift,… Read more »

Janie Hickman

It is truly amazing how many classes I have attended where the first move was Downward Facing Dog. In Yoga Tune Up I learned why this is not a resting pose and the imporatance of warming up riot to doing it. I notice I sleep with my arms in internal rotation which adds to an already internally rotated life. Thanks for stressing the many muscles required to do this pose as well as the importance of warming up.

Rajesh

That’s a very interesting article
Thanks for sharing it with us