Shoulder-opening for Adho Mukha Svanasana (down dog)

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Do you ever go to a yoga class where when you pick up a block or strap you feel like people are looking at you as if you’ve sprouted three heads? I can relate. Vinyasa classes with great music and upbeat tempo are great for the emotional uplift they provide, but that pace doesn’t always leave room for alignment awareness. Incorporating props is one of my favorite aspects of my (slower) home yoga practice.

This technique opens the thoracic spine, stretches the triceps, and awakens the synergistic relationship between shoulders and upper back necessary for yumminess rather than crunchiness in downward facing dog pose. This set-up is beautiful because there is no risk of hyperextending at the elbows in adho mukha svanasana (which, if you are loose-limbed like me, you may have a tendency to do). It  works miracles as a preparatory or conditioning exercise for downward facing dog pose.

You’ll need:

  • A block
  • A wall
  • A yoga mat
  • Either: relatively stretchy hamstrings OR to bend your knees deeply
  • A light-hearted approach
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Face the wall and hold the block between your hands. It’s a little tough getting into, but well worth the effort.
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Kneel against the wall. Hold the block between your hands.
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Try the block at different heights to get it just right (like the three little bears). Get your elbows RIGHT UP AGAINST THE WALL. And seriously? Have a mat under them.
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The block should end up between your scapula. Curl your toes under and press up.
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Walk one foot at a time toward the wall, pressing your upper back into the block. Bend your knees if your hamstrings are keeping you from contacting the block in your upper back.
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Once you’ve walked your feet toward the wall, press your elbows down and away from the wall, which will really stretch the triceps. Then press your back into the contact it is making with the block. Now you’re wishing you had a mat under those elbows (at least I was). Definitely keep your knees bent the whole time if you have tight hamstrings.
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Notice how there is a long line of energy from elbow to waist line. (go back to the fourth and fifth photos: the elbows are not working as much in those. The difference may be subtle on the outside but internally huge.) Keep working the elbows. To encourage the scapula to move together, press the elbows away from each other (without actually moving them).

Hope you enjoy this as much as I do and here’s a step toward proving that props aren’t just for the geriatric crowd. Peace … xx Indira

Not all yoga poses are suitable for all everyone. Practicing in the presence of a qualified instructor, in addition to the direction of your healthcare provider, can help you to determine what poses are suitable for you. The information provided is strictly for reference and is not in a substitute for medical advice or the guidance of a qualified yoga instructor.

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