Adho Mukha Svanasana is a wonderful (and ubiquitous) pose offered repeatedly in many asana classes. It is a lovely shape and has so many important benefits like:
- puts the head below the heart in a gentle inversion
- strengthens the arms and shoulders in flexion
- lengthens the notoriously stiff side body
- stretches the calves
In my 14+ years of working with private clients I’ve found that many students weren’t ready for Downward Dog in our first months and years of working together, let alone the first 5 minutes of class! I use Downward Dog as a peak pose to be slowly worked towards (over months and years sometimes) with many of my private students. A private lesson is an easy and natural place to create specific sequences that meet our students needs, but even in group classes it is possible to wait until bodies are a little bit more prepared before cueing them into Downward Dog.
Are you giving your students enough physical preparation to make Downward Dog an accessible place to enjoy some of the potential benefits? It is likely- and I say this with love- that you are not. It is often one of the very first poses taught in class!
Even people who are very experienced in yoga and are in strong and mobile bodies need more prep than they are usually given (myself included!). If you come to my group class we will be at least 20 minutes into class before I offer you a Downward Dog. I do this because I think it is hard for people to move into that pose in a way that is accessible and interesting in a cold body.
Also: it is a very complex pose! Here are just a few of the physical elements that are necessary to prepare bodies for Adho Mukha Svanasana:
Shoulder Flexion which might need:
- warming up the shoulder in general
- strength and health in the anterior deltoid
- an active rotator cuff to stabilize the shoulder in the socket (working the action of external rotation is a great way to warm and strengthen the rotator cuff)
- freedom in the lats, the long head of the triceps and the pecs
Free Movement of the Pelvis which might need:
- stretching of the hip adductors, hamstrings, calves and glutes
- mobility in the lats
- strengthening of the hip adductors, hamstrings, glutes and deep hip rotators
- strong hip flexors and deep core
Extension of the wrists which needs:
- strength in the wrist extensors
- freedom in the deep arm line of fascia
If all that feels a little too technical, let me say this another way!
Before I offer Downward Facing Dog to my students I will teach some combination of:
- warming up shoulder flexion
- stretching the adductors and calves
- strengthening and warming up the hamstrings (I think these get waaay over stretched in many yoga classes, so I don’t do too much hamstring stretching in my classes)
- strengthening shoulder external rotation
- preparing the wrists
- hip flexor strengthening and core work
Here are 15 video sequences that address at least one (and sometimes several) of these requirements:
1. This sequence stretches the adductors, lats and long head of the triceps and also strengthens the glutes and hamstrings.
2. This sequence has hip internal and external rotation, movements to wake up the adductors and core, a belly massage in a twist and finishes with wrist pushups to get the hands ready to take more body weight!
3. This sequence shows the squat position that is one of my favorite place to teach pelvic floor awareness. It also has some active thoracic mobilization, squats and core work to kick off a nice warm up!
4. This sequence has little ball work to release tension in the glutes, a little core work (sometimes combined!) and lots of rhythmic, circular movements.
5. This sequence has a lot of side body work, a funky ardha chandrasana variation that really opens up the lats (did you know they connect all the way down to your pelvis??) some shoulder external rotation work, and glute and hamstring stretching.
6. This sequence stretches and strengthens the side body, warms up the arms in shoulder flexion, and stretches the adductors and hamstrings.
7. This video shows a great pose to use at the beginning of class as a way to warm up and release tension in the calves.
8. This video shows a way to warm up the muscles around the shoulder blades and also offers an Alternate Version of a traditional vinyasa.
9. This video shows several different short sequences to help strengthen the shoulder external rotators.
10. This sequence shows an important part of preparing wrists to bear weight; stretching the Deep Fascial Arm Line.
11. This sequence shares another important part of Wrist Prep; building the strength and awareness to avoid dumping weight into the wrists with Wrist Push-Ups.
12. This sequence has lots of elements that help prepare bodies for Downward Dog like opening up the side body, and stretching adductor magnus and the glutes.
13. This sequence combines a few different things: warming up the shoulders in shoulder flexion and external rotation, stretching the pecs, some side body work and a little calf stretch at the end.
14. This video shows End Range Shoulder Flexion Lift-Offs which are a great way to strengthen the shoulders (and warm up them up!) in preparation for Downward Dog. The video shows the sequence in child’s pose but it can also be done lying prone if knee or hip flexion is an issue. It can also be done prone with a bolster supporting the length of the torso if neck tension is an issue and it needs to be regressed further.
15. This video shows a sequence I use all the time to train people to step to the front of the mat from Downward Dog putting all their weight on one arm like you do for Side Plank. It is a great way to warm up the shoulders, core and deep hip flexors.
If you start incorporating some of these preparatory sequences into your classes, I would love to hear how it goes! Save this link, and report back after you’ve tried a few. I can’t wait to hear what you think.
Also — I’d love it if you shared this link on your social media or with yoga teacher friends! Thanks in advance for spreading the word— no more cold Downward Dogs! 🙂