A common question I often get asked by students is: “What is the right distance for the limbs in downward facing dog”? They seem to be unsure about the correct distance between the palms and the feet in Adho Mukha Śvānāsana.
(See more about it in Props for Yoga Vol I)
What Does Light on Yoga Say?
Light on Yoga (LOY) (see Plates 75 & 76) doesn’t give exact guidance on this matter. However, the instructions given for entering the pose resemble those of entering Chgaturanga Dandasana (see Plate 67 in LOY). This gives us the clue that the correct distance for Adho Mukha Śvānāsana should resemble that of Chgaturanga Dandasana. Therefore, to come up with the correct distance, one should lie down on the floor, place his or her palms by the side of the chest and go up to Adho Mukha Śvānāsana (Downward facing dog pose) without moving the feet or the hands.
However, most beginners would not enter the pose this way and rather start from a standing position. Also, as the following point explains, there is more than one correct way to do the pose.
What Is the Purpose of Doing Adho Mukha Svanasana?
In practicing asanas, one should always bear in mind the purpose of doing any given pose or a sequence of poses. While a definite answer for the above question can be of help for beginners, mature practitioners should know that one can do any given pose in many different and correct ways, depending on what one aspires to achieve in performing the pose. In practicing Adho Mukha Śvānāsana or Downward Facing Dog you should consider questions such as:
- Are you doing the pose for mobility or for grounding and stability purposes?
- Are you practicing it as a first pose in a sequence in order to warm up your body?
- What are the following poses you intend to practice and which ones preceded it?
- Are you doing the pose to activate the body and mind or to relax them?
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How to experiment with different distances in Adho Mukha Svānāsana
- Trying a short span
Enter the pose with an intentionally short span between your feet and palms. Note how much you can extend your trunk and make your spine concave. Step back to Uttanasana.
- Trying a long span
Enter the pose a second time, now with an intentionally excessive span between the palms and feet. Note how the excessive span limits your ability to shift weight to the legs. Step forward to Uttanasana
- Trying a balanced span
Enter the pose for the third time. Now adjust the distance such that the weight is distributed evenly between the legs and the arms. Make sure you are able to activate and stretch the legs without compromising the spine’s extension.
As demonstrated in the above short experiment, there are several options and one should select the appropriate one, depending on the effects one wants to achieve. When I do the pose before backbends, I often increase the distance to allow more space in the shoulder girdle and to help concave the spine. This prepares for the actions of the arms and shoulder blades required in backbends. However, when I do the pose before standing poses or forward extensions, I often shorten the distance in order to be able to ‘stamp’ the heels better onto the floor, to intensify the stretch of the hamstrings and the calf muscles, and to open the skin at the backs of the thighs.
To sum up, although I didn’t specify any definite distance, I hope I did shed some light about how one should adapt the distance of the limbs in Downward Facing Dog according to the purpose and the circumstances of one’s practice.