Downward facing dog, known as Adho Mukha Svanasana in Sanskrit (which literally translates into downward facing dog) is probably the most visited pose in any Vinyasa yoga class in North America, and many other parts of the world. Not only is it a frequently used yoga pose, it is also an incredibly therapeutic pose with a multitude of benefits for your physical body. So give yourself 5 more reasons to practice downward facing dog every day!
1. Opens the Armpit Chest
You may be wondering, what is the armpit chest? It is basically the part of your body where your chest meets your shoulder, right above your armpit. This is an area of the body that houses a large concentration of lymph nodes, which are responsible for the health of your immune system. Keeping the armpit chest open and allowing the the healthy white blood cells that lymph fluid consists of, to circulate throughout your bloodstream, and thus your entire body. When you are in downward facing dog, make sure you are reaching your arms as if you were pushing the front of your yoga mat away from, as this will create more opening in the armpit chest.
2. Lengthens the Hamstrings
The traditional form of downward facing dog is practice with the legs straight, which allows the hamstrings to stretch. When you're in the pose you can see your legs, and so see if they are actually straight. The catch here is that you really have to straighten your legs fully, and then you have to engage the quadricep muscles in both legs so that you can fully stretch the hamstring muscles. Stretching and lengthening your hamstrings is so important for your physiology, as short hamstring can cause severe back pain. Many of our daily tasks involve sitting, which shortens the back of the leg, so reverse that with downward facing dog!
3. Extends the Spine
When you reach your arms and fully straighten your legs in downward facing dog, you begin to affect your spine. When you can extend your spine, you take the pressure off of it, and help re-establish the natural curves of your spine. This has such sustainable, positive effects on the central nervous system, which runs right through the spine; your shock absorber for life. Another tip to help you extend your spine is to lift your sitting bones - just remember, if you tend to be on the flexible side, you don't want to let your whole ribcage slump toward the ground, so keep your ribs contained while you lift the sitting bones.
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4. Widens the Carpal Tunnel
There is a very specific alignment of the hand that allows the carpal tunnel to widen; have your hands shoulder width apart, point your middle fingers straight ahead, and press down very firmly through the index finger knuckle, thumb knuckle and inner wrist of both hands. This action widens the pads on the heels of your palms that surround the carpal tunnel, taking the pressure of the nerves that pass through the tunnel.
5. Lengthens the Back of the Neck
In the traditional alignment of downward facing dog, your gaze is toward your belly button, or in between your thighs. This allows the back of your neck to lengthen and relax. When the neck remains long, you support the calming of your nervous system, allowing you to breathe fully and deeply when in the pose.
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