robert

Abandoning Downdog?

18 posts in this topic

Hello Community,

I've recently started experimenting with yoga again after a 'false start' about 4 years ago. I find it helps to clear the mind, as you are thinking about your posture, a kind of active meditation. Howeaver my physiology makes many of the 'staple' postures prittymuch impossible to do properly, i.e. downdog and forward bends.

I'm currently 24 and my hamstrings are extreamly tight and always have been as far as I can remember. I can only bend forward 'from the hips' about 20 to 30 degrees. I can't begin to approch the 'ideal' for downward facing dog, even with very bent knees a large area of my back is flat (horisontal) and curves down through the spine.

My main question is why these postures are included so extensivly in common practice? Is it just that they are a convinient means of flowing between other postures?

Is there any problem with abandoning them entirely and substituting? For example I believe downdog is ment to stretch the upper back, which 'puppy pose' does for me.

YogaByCandace likes this

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Most, if not all, who are new to yoga (especially the guys) are extremely tight...you are normal!

I'm new (started in November) and my flexibility has increased significantly, but, still, not able to do downdog with planted heels and straight legs...I don't anticipate being able to do that for a year...or more.

It takes a while, a long while, of slow patient practice to increase your flexibility.

To answer your question, though, downdog is part of the flow of many parts of the practice (probably the pose that you will do most often during a typical class).

Eliminating it would be like playing tennis without learning how to hit backhand. You can still play, but it wont be the same.

Keep practicing and check out the link in my auto signature.

PaulaH, Vicky, YogaByCandace and 1 other like this

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Pictures would certainly help to clarify in that article, in the reclining hand to big toe section, I know of the basic posture howeaver I'm unsure of how the wall is relivent.

 

Also is there any risk of going too far with these pnf-like techniques? I just tried it working in slowly over about 10 mins per side and was able to get my leg up to around 60 degrees, though hardly noticed it. Howeaver after releacing my hamstrings are not painful, but telling me they have been worked.

 

Going into it slowly the brain dosn't seem to stop it, how do you know when you have gone too far?

YogaByCandace likes this

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Candace will (most likely) provide you with a detailed explanation of what you should try. I believe she's traveling, so give it a day, or so. If you want my advice...don't rush it. Try a few of the basic, beginner poses and spend a few minutes on each. If it's in the budget, a private lesson can't hurt. Otherwise, wait until the Yoga Goddess chimes in with her pearls of wisdom.

(Beginner tip...in downward dog, you will NOT be able to do the pose fully, don't worry about it, but you can still get the benefit of the pose if you bend your knees and rise up on your toes, eventually trying to settle your heels down a bit)

YogaByCandace and mimisouth like this

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Welcome!

 

Sorry, I am not a man, but have you already seen Candace's blog post on this?  http://yogabycandace.com/blog/yoga-for-men-down-dog-yoga-crow-review

 

In terms of "going into it slowly", most of teachers always say we can take a child's pose in lieu of downward dog.  Back off if you find yourself tensing up in any pose (in addition to easing back if there is pain). Engaging muscles is one thing, tensing up (especially in the neck) is another.

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Hey Robert, welcome!! Uh, yeah, downward dog is so brutal especially for beginners who are really tight in the hamstrings. It's a double whammy if you don't have a ton of upper body strength either (not saying you do - guys generally have more upper body strength, I'm just remembering the soreness I felt in my shoulders and arms when I first started practicing with consistency). There's so much going on in the pose - you're pushing the ground away with your arms (shoulder and upper body strength firing here), you're gripping into the ground with the fingertips (this is so key, but also fires up the little muscles in the hands), lifting the hips to visualize your body as the letter V (major stretch for long armpits which is probably why you feel the stretch in your back since many guys are tight in the chest/armpit/shoulder area), and then "inviting" (ha, I always use to scoff at that word when my hamstrings were tight) the heels to come down to the mat (big time work for the legs). So it really is a total body posture and to be honest, really intense for beginners. So here's my suggestion: 

 

Yes, you could practice yoga without it, but like Larry said - it won't be the same (love the tennis analogy, Larry!). Just keep working on the flexibility by keeping your legs bent as much as you need to. In my opinion, it's more important that the armpits are long than the heels are reaching the ground. Check out the link yogafire gave above and whenever you need a break, you can drop the knees to the ground for a rest in table pose or sit back into child's pose (though to be honest, that's tough for people with really tight hips as well). 

 

I hope that's helpful. It's kind of a bummer, but flexibility takes a while to develop and really the only way to develop it is to keep consistently practicing. I'm not talking hours at a time, but any time you have a minute - like if you're waiting for your shoulder water to get hot in the morning or you're waiting for your coffee to steep or whatever, take a standing forward fold with bent knees as much as you need to, and your head heavy. Do it in the middle of the day if you need a break from sitting down. Do it any time you can for just a few deep breaths and you'll begin to notice the hamstrings start to open up. Stick with it and let us know how we can help! Better yet, snap a pic now and keep checking in over the next few weeks - you won't believe how much improvement you'll see if you stick with it!

PaulaH, mimisouth, KimK and 1 other like this

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...but like Larry said - it won't be the same (love the tennis analogy, Larry!)....

I accept PayPal

 

 

...Do it any time you can for just a few deep breaths and you'll begin to notice the hamstrings start to open up. ...

During your practice it will loosen up, too. After a 40 minute session, your last one will be significantly easier than your first. Try it 5-10 times during each session

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Hello Candace, yogafire.

 

Thank you for the tips. my upper body strength, arms especially, isn't great. I can't hold crane pose for instance and can't get my feet up.

 

Since writing the above I've been doing the excersises in the aricle larry linked to, and was curious as I was able to lift my leg a lot heigher lying down than the equivalent in bending forwards. That lead me to  experiment with how I bend forwards and one thing I've noticed is that I wasn't shifting my weight backwards. Beacouse of which my hamstrings where locking early to stop me falling over... Shifting my weight I can go a lot deaper into a forward bend and actually feel a stretch on the hamstrings. Releasing out of it makes the muscles feel weird, 'tingly poppy' sensation.

 

The best Im able to do in downdog has my back following a line like in the edited attached picture. Even with really bent knees my pelvis dosn't tilt forward enough and the spine is compensating. Don't think this is great for the back.

 

Childs pose isn't a problem. I can also sit in thunderbolt pose easily, as it is one thing I've maintained from my aborted practice a few years back. It's a stable seat and I find it reduces the tendency to slump forward.

 

I'll keep practicing the forward bends and downdog.

 

I'm generally finding it much easier to pick things up second time around already knowing a lot of the poses/names. Also I'm finding that I'm understanding things much better from studying the function of the poses and observing myself - which lead me to realise that it's really easy to do them 'wrong' without realising it. Picking up a class isn't really practical, or financially viable as I'm in the middle of starting a buisiness (I make/play italian transverse ocarinas), I also dance with a border morris side - hence the avitar. Latter point means I'm out a lot over the summer.

post-795-0-55173700-1429818685_thumb.jpg

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I'm having a hard time imagining the shape.  Is it more like this picture that has the x on it, from this site? http://recoveringthebody.com/monday-discipline-downward-dog/

 

I just remember advice on focusing too much on getting the heels down can lead to improper form, so it might not be just tight hamstrings (since the picture has heels down and straight legs).

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As everyone said it is a difficult pose..

I remember when I started doing yoga consistently that I thought downward dog was tough and then a yoga teacher said downward dog is a resting pose and a chance to check back in with your breathe.. I was OMG! Resting pose you must be joking but like any pose in yoga the more you practice the easier it becomes. I can now get my feet flat on the floor and love the pose.. My point is keep at it and gentle pushing at the edge.. I used to make sure my arms were straight and back long but bend my knees - even now I still do this if my back is tight!

Keep at it - it will be worth it..

Vicky likes this

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I remember when... a yoga teacher said downward dog is a resting pose and a chance to check back in with your breathe.. I was OMG! Resting pose you must be joking ...

+1

MrBalloonHands likes this

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I'm having a hard time imagining the shape.  Is it more like this picture that has the x on it, from this site? http://recoveringthebody.com/monday-discipline-downward-dog/

 

I just remember advice on focusing too much on getting the heels down can lead to improper form, so it might not be just tight hamstrings (since the picture has heels down and straight legs).

 

If you add bent knees - yes prittymuch.

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Guys (anyone, really) with tight shoulders can vary the placement of their hands to see what feels "good" (a relative term for down dog, right?!). Try bringing the hands closer together and farther apart while imagining (if you struggle with doing at this stage) "melting" the shoulder blades down the back and drawing the navel up and in. Hand placement can be as wide as your mat if that's what feels best - for some folks, super wide hand placement makes all the difference in the world...Just to echo what others have said, down dog is a challenging pose for a ton of folks. It's only been in recent years that I've come to love it...used to feel uncomfortable - would make my traps sore and shoulders hated it - and my hands would slide all over the place (fyi a Jade mat is the best I've found so far to prevent slip).

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so, now you got your answer...bend your knees

we all started that way 

I still keep them bent (slightly) and my heels never touch down...but I feel the stretch in the back of my hamstrings as I push my hips upward while I force my hands forward (to open the armpits)

mimisouth likes this

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Robert,

Another tip for you to work on the proper form would be to do Down Dog at a wall. Stand at a wall and plant the palms against the wall walking your way backwards. Work on keeping the spine nice and long as you walk backwards until you eventually find that 90 degree angle in the hips. You probably won't be there to start out, but keep working at it, really using the breath to soften the hamstrings and open the armpits. You'll press into the hands as if you're pushing away from the wall; this will bring that feeling into the hips of pulling back and stretching through the spine.

 

Keep at it! And remember 2 things: always be kind and patient with your body, and the poses we hate are the ones we need the most ;)

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I remember when I started doing yoga consistently that I thought downward dog was tough and then a yoga teacher said downward dog is a resting pose and a chance to check back in with your breathe.. I was OMG! 

 

Hahaha!! So true! This was my reaction too! 

 

I was practicing for 3 years, once in a week and I never succeded in touching my heels on the floor... I have really tight hamstrings that made it so difficult and also my shoulders were on fire! I hated downdog...

This February I started practicing at home with Candace's videos and I am very proud to say that finally I can do the full pose (maybe not always in the beginning of a practice though..)! But it took a lot of hard work and I've been practicing 4-6 times a week...

 

So just be patient and keep pracitcing! 

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