In a typical Vinyasa class, you will probably find yourself in downward dog more than any other pose. This mild inversion is considered an active resting pose, and despite ubiquity, it remains one of the more difficult poses to master, even for the most advanced practitioners.
Here are some stretches to help you attain the full expression of Downward Dog:
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend). A simple forward-fold allows you to stretch those pesky tight hamstrings and allows you to straighten your legs in Downward Dog. Keep your feet hip-width apart and stand tall. Fold forward at the waist and reach for your toes. To deepen the stretch, grab onto your big toes with your peace fingers and lengthen your spine on an inhale, while folding deeper towards the floor on an exhale.
Malasana (Garland Pose). Take a wide squat with your knees apart. Place your hands in prayer, placing your elbows between your knees. You can place a rolled up blanket under your heels if your feet are not fully settled on the floor. This stretches your ankles and calves to let you push your heels towards the floor in Downward Dog
Parsvottanasana (Pyramid Pose). Here’s another great pose for strengthening the ankle and calves. Step one foot in front of the other keeping your hips and toes facing forward in a two-foot wide stance, keeping your heels in one line. With the hips square, lengthen the spine on an inhale, and begin to lower your forehead toward your shins on an exhale. You may rest your hands on a block or on the floor. You may also take your hands in reverse prayer behind your back.
Ardha Hanumanasana (Half-Splits). This pose stretches the thighs, hamstrings and groin, and is great prep work to get into your Downdog. Begin in tabletop and step your right food forward in between your hands. Start to take your hips back while keeping it square and stacked over your left knee. Inhale to lengthen the spine and begin to fold over your right leg on an exhale. Draw your right heel back while reaching your chest forward, keeping your shoulders back and away from your ears. You may place your hands on blocks or the floor.
Janu Sirsasana (Head to Knee Forward Bend). Unlock your hamstrings with this seated pose. Sit with your legs outstretched before you, and on a blanket if you have trouble keeping your spine upright in this position. Bend one leg inward and rest its foot on the inner thigh of the outstretched leg. Twist your body towards the outstretched leg and inhale with your spine pulled up and arms raised. Fold forward at the waist keeping the spine long as you reach for your foot.
Whether you’re new to the practice or have been at it for a while, always remember that yoga is not about having perfect poses every time – it is about taking it step by step. That effort is in pushing yourself towards attaining the pose, and with just a little more added effort at each class, you will feel and see progress.
Noelle Rodriguez is the founder of LiFE, a yoga, music and art studio in the Philippines. There, she spends her days meeting creative people and devising ways to further innovate in the health and wellness industry. She also teaches yoga and coaches people to be their greatest selves.