downward facing dog

A Teacher’s Guide to Instructing Downward Dog

How to teach students down dog or Adho Mukha Svanasana

Down Dog is an extremely dynamic posture when we look at it closely. The key to instructing the posture is figuring out which instructions will bring your student’s body into greater balance and harmony. In order to know the appropriate instructions to give, it is important to accurately assess your student’s body.

The most common misalignment I’ll see in Down Dog happens to yogis with tighter shoulders. Often these students will internally rotate their shoulders causing tightness in the neck and causing the elbows to bend sideways.

To help students with tightness around the shoulders in Down Dog:

  • Turn their palms out a little so that their index fingers point forward rather than having their wrist creases parallel to the front of the mat.
  • Touch their triceps and ask them to hug the backs of their arms to the midline. I prefer not to grab and wrap their arms because such an action can injure a student. Have your student do the work themselves so they can feel out their body’s natural limit.
  • Instruct your student to push the floor away from them to create more space in the shoulders.

For yogis with very flexible shoulders the instructions and cues will be different. These students present with a sunken chest and congestion just below the bottom tips of the shoulder blades.

To help hyper flexible students in Down Dog:

  • Tell your student to firm the front ribs to the back body. You can touch the abdominal muscles that are just below the rib cage to clarify.
  • Have the student push the floor away from them to create more space in the shoulders, the same as our tight-shouldered friends.
  • To turn on the pecks and biceps, instruct your student to hug their triceps to the mid line. This is also a similar to the work we do with our tighter yogis.

The pelvis can be tilted differently for different effects as well. While the above adjustments generally require you to be more hands on with each individual student, here is a way you can have your students self assess and adjust. It’s useful in larger group classes to impact the most change.

  • Have your students come into Uttanasana.
  • Explain that the tighter the hamstrings the harder it is to reach the floor.
  • Instruct your students to notice if they can palm the floor easily or if their fingertips are far from the floor.

A student with tight hamstrings should reach their sit bones up and back.

Someone with flexible hamstrings may choose to tuck their tailbone in Down Dog to build more core strength.

The most important tip you can give your students is for them to listen to their body first and foremost. Everyone is different so no matter how much knowledge a teacher can gather, we will never know what it means to move in another person’s body. Empower your students to feel things out, ask questions and find their own balance and harmony.

About the author:

Marysia Do is a yoga teacher facilitating workshops and trainings throughout the world – including Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and throughout the Middle East. Follow her journey to experience helpful videos and demonstrations here.

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