February 01, 2019

Downward-Facing Dog: 6 Awesome adjustments your students will love.

If we asked 100 people to name a yoga pose, Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) would surely be the top answer. With application as both a stand-alone pose and a handy link within a flowing sequence, downward-facing dog is almost certain to show up in every active yoga class. Multi purposing as a forward bend and mild inversion, it offers the ultimate full-body, rejuvenating stretch.It’s likeability factor, however, is a little more contentious. Some students love it, and take the shape easily. Others moan and groan (or perhaps howl!) at the mere suggestion of coming into downward facing dog.

Whichever camp students fall into, there’s always more to love and learn about any pose. Experiencing an appropriate adjustment at the hands of a caring and confident teacher can help students achieve both.

The grounds for adjustment

Adjustments are used to help yoga students find better alignment, ease, stability, understanding and extension in a variety of poses. They can either utilise props or be a hands-on experience - sometimes both.

Now, let’s explore 6 adjustments that are sure to convert all your students to ardent dog lovers!

1. Lend a grounding hand

Many students place too much weight into the wrists and outer hands in downward-facing dog, potentially leading to soreness and misalignment. This grounding guidance highlights the stabilising role of the whole of the hands and fingers, and helps strengthen the muscles of the fingers, hands and arms.

Adjustment: Gently press your partner’s hands down to the earth with your own.

Photo: Keely Thomson, 432 Studio and Stephanie Williams, Kalpita Yoga

2. Support high heels

Students with tight hamstrings will likely take downward-facing dog with their heels far from earth. Those with tight achilles may even get the leg shakes! Create a soft, supportive landing pad for the heels with a rolled mat or blanket. This gives the student a focus for the desired direction of the heels - straight back and down to earth - and also frees up the entire body.

Adjustment: Pop the prop under the heels and ask your student to sink into it.

Photo: Stephanie Williams, Kalpita Yoga

3. Roll out the shoulders

Scrunching tight shoulders up around the ears is a common issue - on and off the yoga mat. This adjustment gifts the shoulders well-deserved spaciousness and allows the neck to lengthen.

Adjustment: Place your hands on the student’s upper arms and rotate armpits toward one another.

Photo: Stephanie Williams, Kalpita Yoga and Keely Thomson, 432 Yoga Studio

4. Lift and lighten

With the weight distributed between hands and feet, there’s a temptation to feel heavy in this pose. This adjustment delivers a joyful sense of lightness, height and a delightful tractioning out of the spine.

Adjustment: Stand with one foot between the student’s hands, the other staggered behind. Match the heels of your hands with their sacrum, spread the hands and lean your weight toward the student as you direct the sacrum upward.

Photo: Stephanie Williams, Kalpita Yoga and Keely Thomson, 432 Yoga Studio

5. Power up the legs

Downward-facing dog requires lots of leg power! The blend of pressure and direction from the belt in this adjustment reminds the student to activate the front of the legs and shift them toward the backs of the legs. This adjustment encourages an even weight distribution between arms and legs, and lengthens out the spine.

Adjustment: Standing as above, loop a belt around the top of her thighs—holding the ends of the belt gently, lean back to lengthen the spine. Make sure the student can comfortably maintain contact with the floor throughout the adjustment.

6. Quiet the mind

As a stand-alone and sequence linking pose, downward-facing dog is not generally considered quiet and restorative. But with the addition of a squishy bolster under the forehead, the pose can be transformed into a tranquil body/mind soother. This light pressure against the forehead is also useful to relieve headache.

Adjustment: Place the short edge of the bolster under the pose for the head to rest on. Be sure to adjust the height (use 2 bolsters) if necessary so the props easily meet the body, rather than vice-versa.

Photo: Keely Thomson, 432 Yoga Studio and Stephanie Williams, Kalpita Yoga

Rules of adjustment

Before offering adjustments to students, be mindful of the following rules of adjustment:

  1. Consent: Physical adjustments are intimate and require a high level of trust and respect between teacher and student. Always ask students if they are OK with being adjusted before proceeding.
  2. Expectations: Make sure students know what’s involved with an adjustment before offering it, either via verbal instructions, or demonstrating on yourself or another (consenting) class member.
  3. Reasoning: Emphasise that adjustments are generally so they can understand and get more out of the pose, to correct alignment or to make a certain aspect of the pose more obvious. Adjustments to not indicate the student is doing the pose ‘wrong.
    You can also demo the adjustment first so students know why they are getting the adjustment, what it looks like and what it will feel like.
  4. Communicate: Throughout the adjustment, both parties should check in with each other - more, less, ask student where they feel it, ask them to direct their attention and/or breath to a particular spot
  5. Self-care: First and foremost, look after yourself when performing an adjustment. As a teacher giving the adjustment, ensure you are feeling centred within yourself, and let the props do the work for you.

Practice makes perfect
Offering adjustments in your class will help you, as a teacher, learn so much more about the poses and your students. Mastering a few adjustments with one of yoga’s most recognised poses, downward-facing dog, is a great place to start.

Best of all, your students get to experience progression and ‘light bulb moments’ in their practice, which will have them fall in love with even the most challenging poses.

A quality yoga mat that that has excellent grip is a great asset to your practice of yoga asanas, especially one such as Downward Facing Dog-check out the Earth Fusion mat on our website.

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