Last week I wrote about whether or not I'm doing my downward facing dog correctly. I'm a stickler for doing things right so I explored online references to answer my question. I found some answers but wasn't satisfied with having all the answers (do we ever have all the answers?!?)
This week I dove into downward facing dog in greater detail and looked to my books for some more answers. And I found some additional insights!
Erich Schiffmann has been in the shadows of my practice for many years. One of my go to resources is his book, Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness. It was in this book that I found a well detailed description of downward facing dog.
My biggest take away from his book was the placement of the hands. Starting in extended child's pose, mark where your hands are and don't move them. Move back into hands and knees position and then move into downward facing dog. It is like magic that the hands are in the "right" position not only for downward facing dog but also for plank.
The part that had been tricking me was my hands were directly under my shoulders in hands and knees position. This hand position didn't allow for a "long dog" and it definitely didn't work for plank. Now my only catch is that if I don't start with extended child's pose (e.g., like in some sun salutations sequences), I will need to remember to place my hands further forward. But what a great lesson especially when I want to be able to teach someone else yoga one day!
The second book I explored for answers was Anatomy of Hatha Yoga by H.D. Coulter. I really need to buy this book because I've had the library's copy on loan multiple times this year. With my anatomy background, this book speaks to me!
The book details the actual angle of hip flexion (from anatomical position), which I think was what I was looking for not necessarily how far apart are the hands and feet. Based on proper "long dog" position with the feet on the ground, the hips should be flexed at 90-120 degrees at the joint. If the feet don't touch the ground such as in "short dog" the hips will be flexed at 45-60 degrees at the joint. This is where a mirror can be very helpful to watch the angle. Good insight into positioning.
Another common complaint of mine with my downward facing dogs is my heels are off the ground (darn, tight calves!) and knees bent. However, there is an anatomical purpose for taking this position. Having the heels flexed (as close to 45 degrees as possible) and the knees bent allows the lumbar spine to release. The two muscles that flex the knee (calves and hamstrings) are no longer stretching at the knee and thus allow the sit bones to press further back. Reduced leg tension and aaahhh - what a wonderful stretch!
Okay - this downward facing dog pose is mighty complex. I truly think I've just scratched the surface. It is a full body pose and thus, needs many posts to explore all aspects of the pose.
More dogs to come,
Aspiring Yoga Teacher
I've practiced yoga since I was a pre-teen and have always found it to keep me centered. I will be a teacher one day and this is my journey to discover teaching and practice.