Stretches: Soles of feet and fascia, Achilles tendons, calves, knee flexors, hamstrings, hips and lower back, elbows, shoulders.
Main Focus: Spinal length. The rest of the lengthening through the back body will come with practice.
Downward Facing Dog is a staple posture in any kind of Yoga class, often used as a place to rest and catch your breath. But for runners, it can be all the more meaningful: it can help with many common ailments, such as plantar fasciitis, calf and hamstring tightness, IT band tightness, lower back soreness, etc. It can improve your running form by decompressing the spine and correcting your posture.
But Down Dog can also be a lot more work for runners than for your average bear: while it is an excellent stretch for all of this back body tightness, practicing Down Dog can also be a really uncomfortable experience.
So follow my alignment cues here, modify to make the posture more accessible, practice it consistently, and OM to your PR.
- This posture resembles an upside-down V with your hips at the apex of an equilateral triangle. The body is supported equally by both upper and lower body.
- Hands are shoulder width apart. Wrist line parallel to the front edge of your mat. Fingers spread wide, with every joint of every finger planted into the mat. Middle fingers pointing straight ahead.
- Feet are hip width apart and parallel: heels and toes in one line. If you look back at your feet, you shouldn’t be able to see your heels.
- Hips, knees, and ankles are aligned, without the knees knocking in to form a potential triangle. This could result in harmful tension on the inside of the knee.
- Unshrug your shoulders and allow the shoulder blades to melt down your spine. Shake out the head and neck, and look behind you between your knees (looking at the mat will strain your neck).
- Microbend your knees. On an exhale pull the belly button to your spine, and send the sits bones even higher.
- Think of rotating the inner thighs towards one another. This allows you to create more space in the hips and find some more length in the back of the legs.
- Feel free to pedal the feet and make this posture dynamic, to relieve some of the strain.
- Knee alignment can be difficult to achieve if your calves and knee flexors are tight. Try bending your knees a little, lifting your hips higher, and focusing on rotating your inner thighs inwards towards one another. This should allow you to create some additional space in the hips but also will align the knees more easily.
- If your hamstrings and hips are very tight, you’ll find that your body is pitching forward, and you are supporting a lot of your weight in your arms, making the posture very tiring. A good modification here would be to keep your knees bent to whatever extent that allows you to take your hips back.
- If your hamstrings and hips are so tight that the previous modification doesn’t help, and you are still bearing most of your weight in the upper body, it may cause discomfort in the shoulders and wrists. Try practicing your Down Dogs with your hands placed on blocks. Just make sure that they are stable and placed shoulder width apart on your mat.