Relieve Shoulder and Neck Pain with Downward Facing Dog

Pose: Downward Facing Dog

Sanskrit Name: Adhomukha Svanasana


How do I set up for the pose? 

Props

One sandbag. Four blocks. One belt.   

Pranayama – Breath work

Inhale and exhale rhythmically in the pose to center yourself into the present moment.

Step one = Align

Align your body, heart, and mind with your intention. 

Pause and reflect. Decide how you want to feel while you are in the pose. Ask yourself these questions: What do you need to let go of (exhale)? What do you want to receive (inhale)? 

Step two = Energize 

Read How do I practice the pose? first. Do your best to remember the directions, but try not to get caught up in doing the pose perfectly. Once you get a sense of the directions in the pose, feel the positive emotion(s) and match that with your intention. Breathe mindfully. Then, and only if it’s comfortable for you, close your eyes, disconnect from the world, and feel the positive emotion(s) you want to feel.

Step three = Heal 

Repeat the pose 3 times on each side. You are repeating the pose to unlearn imbalanced movement patterns and relearn balanced movement patterns to relieve neck and shoulder pain.  

Caution  If downward facing dog hurts your wrists at all, try practicing the pose with the second sandbag under your hands. Or, reset the position of the mat, so the short edge of the mat is at a wall. Place two blocks lengthwise, between the edge of the mat and the wall. Position yourself in downward facing dog. Then, place your hands on the blocks. You get more lift in your arms with your hands on the blocks so that more of your weight transfers into your legs. 


How do I practice the pose?

Align. Set up your intention. 

  • Prop-assistance. Set out the mat and place one sandbag at the end of the mat for your heels. 
  • Position yourself in the middle of the mat and move on to all fours.
  • Prop-assistance. Place a block (narrow width) between your upper inner thighs and squeeze in to engage your abdominal muscles and lower core. 
  • Prop-assistance. Place a block (wide length) between the lower shins, just above the ankles. Press in to energize the feet, shins, and legs.

Energize the upper core by connecting your hands with the earth’s energies. 

  • Place your hands slightly in front of your shoulders and place your hips over your knees.
  • Set your hands so that your middle finger is pointing towards the front of your mat.
  • Press down through the thumb and pointer finger and spread out the other fingers.
  • Prop-assistance. Place two blocks between your inner forearms and resist the forearms inward. Then, resist the forearms forward and inward to create internal rotation. 
  • Prop-assistance. Place a belt at your upper arms and resist outward. 
  • Pull the triceps (backside of the upper arm muscle) towards the upper arm bone (humerus), and resist the upper arm outward to create external rotation. 
  • Firm up your elbows and open the collarbone. 
  • Remove the two blocks at the inner forearms and belt before lifting into downward facing dog. 

Align.

  • Turn onto the bottom of your toes and place your heels on the sandbag.
  • Lift your hips upward. 
  • Extend your inner and outer heels into the sandbag. 

Energize your feet, shins, and legs to engage your lower core. 

  • Resist your shins forward and thighs backward as you press in at the thighs and in at the shin block.
  • Gently pull the front of your diaphragm (located at your lower ribcage) towards your spine. 

Energize your hands, forearms, and upper arms to engage your upper core. 

  • Keep the actions in your hands and arms, keep your elbows firm, and elongate through your inner and outer arms.
  • Take the energy from your hands and arms and transfer that energy to your shoulder blades. Engage the rhomboids (inner shoulder blade muscles), and draw the inner shoulder blades toward the spine.
  • Draw the shoulder blade towards the hips (down the back) using the lower trapezius (back) muscles.

Heal. Breathe rhythmically and mindfully. If possible, remain in the pose long enough to feel the elevated positive emotion(s) you want to feel.

  • Keep the eyes and face soft. 
  • Release any tension in the neck. 

Exit the pose.

  • Slowly drop down onto all fours.
  • Remove the two blocks. 
  • Place one block underneath the hips and sit back on the block.  

Once you are in the pose, go within. Breathe rhythmically and mindfully.

  • Exhale and let go of what no longer serves you: pain, tension, tightness, anxiety, fear, sadness, lack, scarcity, insecurity, separation, and so forth. 
  • Inhale and feel what you want to bring into your future: suppleness, flexibility, strength, freedom, joy, happiness, peace, vitality, loving-kindness, inclusivity, connection, unity, understanding, abundance, love, wealth, good health, gratitude, and so forth. 
  • Breathe rhythmically and mindfully. If possible, remain in the pose long enough to feel the elevated positive emotion(s) you want to feel. 

How do I exit the pose? 

  • Exhale out of the pose. 
  • Gently drop onto all fours.
  • Remove the blocks and sit back on the block. Feel the effects of the pose.
  • Repeat the pose. 

 

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