Traction for the Spine: Downward Facing Dog

With scoliosis, one key thing we want to do is lengthen the spine.  The intention here is to create some traction, which decompresses the vertebrae by placing some gentle space between them, while allowing both sides of the back to elongate and stretch.  Downward facing dog is a wonderful pose for just this intention. It can be done freestanding on a mat, using a yoga strap over a door knob and also using a yoga ropes wall. In the photo I show the freestanding version and in the video I’ll explain and demonstrate using the strap and door and show what it looks like on the ropes wall just for fun 🙂

How To Do Downward Dog*

1) Begin in a kneeling position on your mat with hands directly under shoulders, fingers spread wide.

2) Tuck your toes under and engage your abdominals as you push your body up off the mat so only your hands and feet are on the mat. Keep a slight bend in the knees, pressing the thighs back, and keeping your sit bones lifting. (sit bones are the bony protrusions at the base of your pelvis)

3) Press through your hands moving your chest gently toward your thighs and your heels gently toward the floor. Depending on your degree of curve, one side might feel uneven. Try pressing as evenly into the hands as is comfortable while reaching the seat and thighs back to create length.

4) Keep your head where your ears are aligned with your forearms and breathe fully.

*Downward dog can be (and is most useful) when we know the type of curve we are working with and how to make subtle adjustments to the pose to create the most benefit. See my own description of the adjustments I make for my curve along side my photo.

I have a left lumbar curve, so when I do Downward Facing Dog I press my right thigh and heel back to help elongate my right lumbar muscles and I breathe more deeply into my right side waist, since for me this is the area that tends to be tighter and shorter.

For a right thoracic or right thoraco-lumbar curve, turn your palm out on the side where you feel as though your shoulder blade is popping up or out, then draw that shoulder blade in and onto your back. While keeping that, curl the toes under and lift into downward facing dog.

If your hamstrings feel tight and like they aren’t allowing you to take the full pose or are making your lower back round upward, keep your knees bent – even more than I have pictured – to the point you can create a natural inward lumbar curve . As you become more limber in the pose, your legs will gradually begin to straighten.

Please note that straight legs with heels on the mat is not the end result we seek in downward facing dog.  It is the lengthening and tractioning of the spine through creating a long back.  Straight legs in the pose often create a rounded or humped back which defeats the purpose of the pose.

View my VIDEO HERE where I describe the pose in more detail and demonstrate it on the mat, yoga ropes wall and using the doorknob to act as a ropes wall.

“Alicia has been great to work with. I really enjoy our sessions and I am learning so much. She is very in tune with my goals and has been very encouraging... It truly has been a great experience overall!”

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