The Sanskrit word adhomukha (pronounced ahd-ho-mook-hah) means "downward facing," and shvan (pronounced shvahn) means "dog." Yoga masters were great observers of the world around them. They particularly noticed the behavior of animals, which is why the dog's leisurely stretching inspired them to create a similar posture for humans. The practice of downward-facing dog stretches the entire back of your body, and strengthens your wrists, arms, and shoulders. This posture is a good alternative for beginning students who aren't yet ready for inversions like the handstand and headstand. Because the head is lower than the heart, this asana circulates fresh blood to the brain and acts as a quick pick-me-up when you're fatigued.
1. Start on your hands and knees; straighten your arms, but don't lock your elbows (see Figure 7-11a).
Be sure that the heels of your hands are directly under your shoulders, with your palms on the floor with the fingers spread and your knees directly under your hips. Emphasize pressing down with the thumbs and index fingers or the inner web of your hand.
2. As you exhale, lift and straighten (but don't lock) your knees.
As your hips lift, bring your head to a neutral position so that your ears are between your arms.
3. Press your heels toward the floor and your head toward your feet as in Figure 7-11b.
Don't complete this step if doing so strains your neck.
4. Repeat Steps 1 through 3 three times and then stay in Step 3 for 6 to 8 breaths.
Note: In the classic posture, the feet are together and flat on the floor, the legs and arms are straight, and the top of the head is on the floor with the chin pressed to the chest.
Be careful not to hold this posture too long if you have problems with your neck, shoulders, wrists, or elbows.
Challenge yourself in downward-facing dog, but don't strain.
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