Deconstructing Downward Dog: Make the Most of a Fundamental Pose
The first thing to understand about downdog is that it’s not just a simple twisting movement. It involves many different movements all at once. And they’re all very important! If you don’t do them right, your body won’t be able to perform the other movements correctly.
So let’s start with what exactly happens when you lower yourself into a forward bend (or any other position).
First, you have to stabilize your spine. You need to keep your pelvis from collapsing forward and your ribs from moving backward. Your shoulders must stay level and locked out so that they don’t roll over backwards or turn sideways. Finally, you need to maintain good posture throughout the whole movement because if you lose balance during the downward dog then it will be difficult for you to get back up again without some assistance.
In order to do these things, you’ll need to use a combination of muscles and tendons. These are called stabilizing muscles because they hold everything together while the supporting tissues move around. Many of these muscles are in your feet. You may not think that the muscles in your feet have much to do with your core strength, but they actually play a very important role.
They keep you from collapsing in on yourself and make it possible for you to do other things like balance and stand without collapsing.
When you lower yourself into downward dog, you’ll be using these muscles to keep your legs, hips, and spine stable while you reach forward with your hands. Done correctly this pose provides an intense workout for your core, but it’s actually a little more complex than that. There are several different groups of muscles that are involved in downward dog and you’ll be using them all!
The leg muscles, or the thigh muscles as they’re more commonly called, are most visible and probably the ones you think of first when you think about your legs. But there are other leg muscles too like the calves, the shins, and the ankles. The main job of the muscles in your legs is to support your body weight. In downward dog they need to keep you from falling forward while your upper body and arms are reaching up and out.
The thigh muscles are going to be doing most of the work, but the other leg muscles will also contract to help them out. There isn’t much use in having strong thighs if your calves, shins, and ankles aren’t strong enough to keep your legs from buckling!
The next group of muscles we need to talk about are the hip muscles. The main ones we’re concerned with in downward dog are the hip flexors. These are found in your upper legs and when they contract they pull your knees toward your chest. If you’ve ever done a lot of bicycling or other activities that involve a lot of pedaling then you probably know just how much use your hip flexors get!
These muscles are very important in downward dog. They’re going to help you lift and lower your hips when you move into the pose. So if you imagine that there’s a rope around your waist attached to an extremely strong person holding the other end, then every time they pull the rope your hip is going to lift up.
Another group of muscles we need to talk about are the spinal muscles. These are often called the back muscles, but that’s a little bit of a misnomer since they’re also in your abdomen. The main muscle group we need to worry about is called the erector spinae and these extend from your pelvis up to your neck.
These muscles have a big job to do in downward dog.
And just like the name suggests these muscles help keep your back rigid in an upright position. So when you bend backward they have to work extremely hard to keep your back from simply bending forward and collapsing. But downward dog isn’t just a bending backward exercise so we’re only going to be focusing on the extension portion of their action.
Another muscle group that we need to talk about is the arm and hand muscles. These muscles are involved in every part of yoga and every pose, so we could be here all day if we listed every single one! But the ones that are most important in downward dog are the forearm muscles, the shoulder muscles, and the hand muscles.
The forearm muscles are probably the most important muscle group for downward dog since they’re going to be taking the most stress. When your arms and hands are in the downward facing position they’re going to be in a completely extended position.
If your arms were flimsy and weak you’d simply fall on your face. But luckily for you (and everyone around you) you’ve been doing exercises all your life that have made your arm muscles strong from wrist to shoulder. And this means you’re ready for some yoga!
The last muscle group we’re going to talk about is the abdominal muscles. We don’t talk about these muscles very much since they’re not very involved in yoga except for basic breathing exercises. But these are extremely important since they help protect your spine.
I’m sure you’ve heard of someone having a “weak stomach.” This is because the more you use your abdominal muscles the stronger and better protected your spine is. So the next time you’re doing yoga and you hear your instructor encourage you to “suck in your stomach,” now you know why!
Sources & references used in this article:
Deconstructing the emotions for the sake of comparative research by RA Shweder – Feelings and emotions: The Amsterdam …, 2004 – books.google.com
Deconstructing Canada’s discourse of immigrant integration by PS Li – Journal of International Migration and Integration …, 2003 – Springer
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