Downward Facing Dog is not a position you can easily avoid. For those who find the pose puts stress on their neck, shoulders and wrists, one possible solution is to check your foundation. In this article I will discuss the proper hand placement to give your dog a solid base. Remember that just as a tree cannot stand tall without firmly planted roots, an asana cannot be performed without a strong foundation.
(1) Your hands should be roughly shoulder width apart. If there is any strain in the shoulders and wrists you may want to adjust your hands slightly closer or farther apart. You will be able to tell if your positioning is correct by how the upper body feels in direct correlation with where the weight is being held in the hands. You want the weight on your inner hands. If you, like many, tend to gravitate the pressure to the outside, try fanning the hands slightly out and focus on the index finger knuckle (more on this knuckle to come). This action shifts your attention and weight to the inner hands.
(2) The inner and outer wrists should be the same distance from the floor, and the the wrist creases should be parallel to the front edge of your mat.
(3) Draw your attention to your fingertips. They should firmly press, not grip, into the floor. Pressing rather than gripping engages the muscles in your arms which straightening your limbs and releases the torso.
(4) Spread the fingers and webbing between each finger evenly and widely. Notice the thumbs point towards one another, the index fingers face straight ahead parallel to one another and the other three fingers fan out towards the pinky.
(5) The joints at the base of each finger should especially press into the ground, specifically the index and thumb knuckles. Bearing weight in the thumb and index knuckles is a big key to releasing the shoulder and neck. This action also takes pressure off the wrists, outer arms and upper back. If the weight shifts to the other knuckles, pressure travels to the outer forearms and travels up the trapezius to the neck where more than enough tension is already stored.
(6) Try to get the weight forward on the palm rather than in the heel of the wrist. One way to do this is by engaging the muscles upwards in the forearm bones. This shifts the weight from the base of the palms into the knuckle region.
At first, all of this may seem tedious and rather regressive, especially if you have practiced for a while and are realigning a beginning pose such as Down Dog, but your muscles learn quickly. Then, just like everything else in yoga, in time it will naturally align itself in the correct position and your body will thank you.
As always when practicing, remember that every body is different and the only “grade” you are getting is how the asana serves you to better yourself and your practice. You are your best guide, so listen to sensations and be patient with yourself allowing time to check in at every step.
Posted by Molly Lubetkin
Molly is a Chicago-based yoga teacher who teaches vinyasa and teen classes around the city and suburbs. She was drawn to yoga by the challenge to strengthen and relax her body and mind. Growing up with ADHD, Molly found that yoga allowed her to do the seemingly impossible – slow down and accept her body, mind and self. She received her 200-hr RYT certification at Hot House Yoga in Iowa City while studying at the University of Iowa where she majored in English and creative writing. She continues to study under the remarkable guidance of Mac McHugh, Gina Saka, Quinn Kearney, Claire Mark, Geri Bleier and Tom Quinn.