In the fourth installment of Yoga for Runners, Nari Malkhasyan takes us through a key posture in all yoga practice and one that is always beneficial for runners. If you missed parts one through three, you can them here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
Downward Dog is a staple posture in any kind of yoga class, often used as a starting and resting place for Vinyasa sequences. But for runners it can be more meaningful: it can help with many common aches and pains, such as plantar fasciitis, calf and hamstring tightness, IT band tightness, lower back soreness, etc. It can help improve one’s running form by decompressing the spine and correcting the posture.
But Down Dog can also be a lot more work for runners than for your average bear: all the areas of tightness that benefit from this posture also prevent us from getting into it with good and safe alignment. While it’s easy to want to get into the most intense expression of this pose, the main focus for runners should be spinal extension and alignment from the top of the neck down towards the tail. The rest of the lengthening through the back body will come with practice.
DOWNWARD FACING DOG:
- This posture resembles an upside-down V with your hips at the apex of an equilateral triangle. The body is supported equally by both upper and lower body.
- Start with the hands shoulder width apart. Spread the fingers wide, with every joint of every finger planted into the mat. Point the middle fingers straight ahead.
- Place your feet hip width apart and parallel: heels and toes in one line. If you look back at your feet, you shouldn’t be able to see your heels. Keep the ankles, knees, and hips aligned, without knocking the knees together to prevent harmful tension on the inside of the knees.
- Unshrug your shoulders and allow the shoulder blades to melt down your spine. Shake out the head and neck, and look behind you between your knees. Avoid looking down at the mat as it will strain your neck.
- Put a small bend in your knees. On an exhale pull the belly button to your spine, and send the sits bones even higher to elongate the spine. The knees can stay soft to prevent additional strain in the hamstrings.
- Think of rotating the inner thighs towards one another. This will allow you to create more space in the hips and find some more length in the back of the legs.
- Feel free to pedal the feet and make this posture dynamic, to relieve some of the strain. This will also help find additional ankle and calf mobility.
- If knees are knocking together and alignment is difficult, try bending your knees a little, lifting your hips higher, and focusing on rotating your inner thighs inwards towards one another. This should allow you to create some additional space in the hips but also will align the knees more easily.
- If your hamstrings and hips are very tight and you find that your body pitching forward, you may end up supporting a lot of your weight in your arms, making the posture very tiring. Keep your knees bent to whatever extent that allows you to take your hips back. (above)
- If your shoulders are tight and the previous modification doesn’t help, and you are still bearing most of your weight in the upper body, it may cause discomfort in the shoulders and wrists. Try practicing your Down Dogs with your hands placed on blocks. (below)