|Downward-Facing Dog to Upward Bow
by Barbara Benagh
Extending the Spine
Now begin to lengthen your spine toward your tail. Informed by your recent explorations into the spine's snaky nature, perhaps you can feel each individual vertebra move. Slightly drop your tailbone, letting its weight reduce the arch in the lumbar spine, and slightly pull the lower abdomen in toward your back.
Turn your toes under and inhale as you lift your knees off the floor, then exhale and push your hips up and back, an action that will extend your shoulders and spine and put more weight on your feet. Keep your knees bent and, as you did while on all fours, investigate the internal, rhythmic movement of your breathing and the gentle stretching of the spinal muscles. Continue to lengthen your spine toward the tailbone.
This asana imitates the movement of a dog waking up from a nap, so enjoy a luxurious, yawning stretch, as though you were newly awake. Before settling into stillness, feel free to stretch in any way that feels good to you; keeping your knees bent will give you more freedom to wiggle your hips and spine. If you strongly extend both arms and legs, Downward Dog will continue to awaken the spine and infuse it with energy.
Ideally, in Downward Dog your weight should be evenly distributed between the hands and feet. If you have more weight on your hands–a common problem–try this: Focus considerable attention on grounding your legs. This instruction may sound simple, but it really isn't. The most frequent error I see in Downward Dog is jamming the shoulder girdle straight down toward the floor. If you do this, you'll sabotage your ability to root the legs and feet effectively.
Instead, raise and widen your shoulders slightly, then exhale as you rotate the base of your pelvis skyward. Continue to lengthen your spine toward your hips as you do this to avoid compressing the lumbar spine. Explore this action for several breaths and then, on an exhalation, straighten your legs, bringing your heels to the floor if possible. This action will further elongate your shoulders.
Even if your heels do not yet reach the floor, you can bring more of your weight toward your feet. With each new exhalation lengthen your spine toward the tailbone and take your heels back and down while spreading the ball of each foot wide to activate the arches. If you are quite free in your hips, rooting your heels will be sufficient action to generate strength and a buoyant inner lift from the ankles through the knees to the hips. If your heels do not rest on the floor or you do not feel a lift in your legs, focus on extending your calves down from the backs of the knees to the heels and on rooting the balls of the feet. Consciously moving your femur bones toward the backs of the legs also helps. If you still feel more weight on your hands than on your feet, bend your knees to make all these corrective movements easier.
Solidly grounding your legs will both lengthen your spine and stretch your shoulders. Even though the shoulders are now as fully extended as you can make them, maintain a hint of the feeling that your shoulder girdle is still slightly lifted by imagining the inner armpits being pulled toward the back shoulders as though by a string. Now that your shoulders are better aligned, exhale and extend from your side ribs through your triceps and forearms so strongly that you transfer some of your weight forward on the hands, placing slightly more weight on the balls of the fingers than the heels of the hands.
Continue to rotate your upper arms outward, as you practiced earlier, to avoid compressing your shoulders and upper spine. If your arms resist external rotation, again lift the shoulders slightly toward the ceiling. Also, instead of diving your head down, keep it positioned between your upper arms. Both these actions help you avoid hyperextension of the shoulder and excessive internal rotation. Especially if you tend to hyperextend your shoulders, this approach may make you feel restrained at first, but it will also make your shoulder joints safer and your pose more balanced.
Refining the distribution of weight between the arms and legs is a constant process, as is balancing the action of the hips and shoulders. Let the rhythm of your breathing be your constant ally in finding balance within your pose. Feel how each inhalation allows the body to expand, while each exhalation sends currents of movement pumping out through the limbs.
As your pose grows more steady and quiet, close your eyes and turn your attention to your belly, where the rhythm of the breath can usually be sensed quite easily. Let the breath create a sense of inner space and power within the pelvis. Feel how the natural release provided by the exhalation results in the muscles behind the abdominal organs being pulled back into the spine to generate a lift. This lift can be quite buoyant, almost like a balloon floating into the sky. As you catch a ride on that action, imagine that your limbs are not holding you up, they are holding you down!
When you can no longer maintain the pose with steady comfort, come down and rest for a minute or so in Child's Pose before returning to Downward Dog and beginning your flow toward Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose).
• Tones Spine
• Massages and strengthens abdominal organs
• Makes shoulders more flexible
• Strengthens arms and legs Builds endurance Contraindications
• Tendency to dislocate shoulders Chronic shoulder injuries
• Unmanaged high or low blood pressure
• Herniated lumbar discs
• Positional vertigo