"Why is down dog taught SO much in yoga class...I mean, what's the point?!"
The importance of knowing why to do a particular pose, when to teach it and how much to practice it is crucial! I feel yoga teacher trainings often leave teachers unable to answer these questions and thus the fall back plan becomes teaching the familiar. Unfortunately for people with compromised shoulders this leads to a lot of painful downward facing dogs and injuries from repetitive chaturanga dandasana (the yoga push-up).
Her questions of "why" highlights that many students are being led through their yoga class with no information about the therapeutic effects of the postures they are finding themselves in. With that being said let me take the opportunity to highlight the benefits of adho mukha svanasana (down-dog pose).
Benefits of Downward Facing Dog Pose
- Structurally speaking down-dog builds strength in the arms and shoulder girdle and when practiced without injury will eventually become a "resting" posture. It also can reduce stiffness in the shoulder joints and lumbar spine as and assists in lengthening the hamstrings, calves, ankles and feet.
- This pose is instrumental in preparing for other arm balances such as headstand, handstand and forearm balance.
- Being that the practitioner is somewhat inverted there is an increase in blood flow to the heart and brain which helps with fatigue and loss of energy. There is also an increase in lymphatic drainage as gravity assists in the movement of interstitial fluid when you go upside down.
- Downward facing dog also frees up restrictions in the ribs and diaphragm which allows for a more relaxed rhythm of breath.
I feel quite strongly that a healthy yoga practice is one that works with the bodies limitations (not against them). It may be the case that at some point doing down-dog is not going to serve your wellbeing, and in that case, there are alternatives!!
You can lengthen your hamstrings similarly to down dog by folding forward and then bringing your hands onto your shins and straighten your spine. You can also work with the arms and shoulder girdle by doing down dog at the wall or using a chair for the hands. If you have access to a yoga wall you can practice the posh version of down dog in which your upper legs are strapped in and your arms get to extend without any weight bearing- that is my favorite!!
Whatever you do, take the time to ask yourself if the postures are benefiting you, and if the answer is no then modify or skip it all together! When done correctly yoga has the power to heal and bring your body into a place of ease.
Enjoy the process!