Mention yoga to anyone who is unfamiliar with the practice, and you're likely, at some point, to elicit a mention of the downward dog posture. This standard move is utilized in nearly every subset, from Hatha to Vinyasa yoga, as well as every level, from beginner to advanced. Its universal nature makes it a great position for any class catering to a wide array of ability levels. But the downward dog can also be targeted specifically at a smaller group of students, used either as a warm-up stretch or as a transition between poses.
Downward Dog Basics
The downward dog posture is often used as a transitional move, either from a standing position to the floor or as a return from kneeling to standing. When conducted from a kneeling position, you'll start on hands and knees, with your spine in neutral alignment. From there, you'll straighten your knees and press the majority of your weight back into your feet. By the time you are fully in the position, your arms and legs should both be straightened, with the palms of your hands flat on the floor and your heels reaching for the ground.
The downward dog is certainly an appropriate name for this pose, as, when done correctly, it looks a lot like a dog in the midst of stretching. When you're finished with the pose, you can either return to the initial kneeling position, walk your hands back to your feet, or transition into an alternative move such as the plank or the warrior.
Benefits of the Downward Dog Posture
The downward dog is a great pose for stretching out your calves, either as part of a warm up or after an intensive workout. Additionally, the pose allows you to focus on proper alignment, a concept that may be lost when you're working on more difficult positions. Because it is so often used as a transitional move, the downward dog gives you the opportunity to engage in a brief 'check in' with yourself, ensuring awareness of your current physical and mental status. If your mind has begun to stray, you can take this time to get back on track. Conversely, if you're too tired to continue with more difficult poses, downward dog serves as a refreshing alternative. Perhaps the greatest benefit of this pose is that it is accessible to such a wide array of students, making it the perfect addition to just about any yoga class.