Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) is one of the first yoga poses many people will learn. It's brilliant for building strength and mobility in the whole body and is neutralising for the spine in between strong twists, forward bends or backbends.
Once you get the hang of Downward Dog it can be a wonderful resting pose. However, in Downward Facing Dog it’s quite common for people to roll the shoulders and upper arms inwards. This can scrunch up the shoulders and neck, creating tension and making the pose much harder to hold.
There are two opposite actions that need to happen in the arms in order to make it both comfortable and stable. You might have heard your teacher instructing you to 'externally rotate your upper arms and internally rotate your lower arms' but this can be confusing enough even when you're not hanging upside down!
So Marlene Henny shares this easy way to learn how to position your arms and shoulders - while you're still upright. This will make your Downward Dog easier and more comfortable to hold.
4 steps to a more comfortable Downward Dog
Sit on your heels with your open arms straight out to the sides, palms facing down.
Turn your palms upwards to roll the upper arms and shoulder heads back (so your thumb will be pointing behind you).
Allow the shoulder blades to draw down the back keeping the base of the neck free and relaxed. You might start to feel more space and ease in your neck and shoulders already.
Then, keeping the upper arms and shoulder blades where they are (rolled back/externally rotated), turn your wrists so that the palms of your hands are now facing the ground.
Keep this alignment and rotation and bring your arms to the front. Keep the arm bones plugged back into their sockets to create a strong frame with your shoulders.
Place the hands on the floor in front of you with your fingers spread. Press firmly through the base of the first finger and thumb and the fingertips especially. When you tuck your toes and extend your legs into the pose, your upper arms stay rotating outwards instead of in and your shoulders will feel broad. This takes out the tension and you will feel way more relaxed and spacious in the shoulders.
If you feel tightness in your shoulders you can bring your shoulders a little bit forward instead of bringing shoulders back towards the thighs. Keep the shoulder blades on the back and stay here in the pose. Let your neck be in line with the spine allowing the energy to flow freely.
Remember you can always keep your knees a little bent in Downward Dog - this allows your spine to lengthen and can be more comfortable for your lower back and hamstrings.
Take a look at our step-by-step guide to Downward Facing Dog
Originally published Feb 2014 and updated with new images and tips.