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Ask anyone with at least a little knowledge of yoga to name a few postures, and Downward Dog will likely be some of the first, if not the only, words out of their mouth, at least here in America. However, in India, the birthplace of yoga the pose isn't emphasized quite as much, says yoga teacher and life coach Sophie Herbert. "Here in the U.S., Downward Dog is the anchoring posture of many practices," says Herbert, who received her training and yoga certification in India but now teaches in Brooklyn.
Perhaps it's because the pose is so good for many of the things that plague our society today: fatigue, back pain and stiffness from sitting all day, Herbert adds. In fact, Downward Dog has lots of health benefits — and whether you're an everyday yogi or not, this pose alone is worth adding to your regular fitness routine.
- It builds bone density. Postures like Downward Dog (as well as more difficult arm balances) that place weight on the arms and shoulders are great for building upper body strength and preserving bone density, says Herbert — especially important for women as we age and become more at risk for osteoporosis.
- It wakes you up. Herbert cites B.S.K. Iyengar, the 94-year-old founder of Iyengar yoga, who says that Downward Dog is one of the best poses you can do when you're fatigued. "He recommends at least a minute in the pose," she says, "to bring back lost energy for runners after a hard race." It works equally well, she adds, for those of us who are just tired from a long day at the office, too.
- It eliminates stiffness and back pain. "I find it's good for people who get pain in their shoulders and upper back," says Herbert. "Practicing it with proper alignment can make your upper back more flexible and less likely to store so much tension."
Read on for the rest of the list!
- It boosts circulation. Any pose where the heart is above the head is a good one for the circulatory system, because it encourages blood flow throughout the body. An active circulatory system helps flush toxins from our body, keep our immune system in tip-top shape, and helps regulate blood pressure.
- It can be easily modified. If you're overweight, it can be intimidating, difficult, or even painful to put so much weight on your arms in downward dog. If the posture's not comfortable for you, you can always drop down into Dolphin Pose, with elbows on the ground, to get many of the same benefits. (If you have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor before attempting downward dog, as well.)
- It's a good check in with your body. Herbert says that yoga classes spend so much time in Downward Dog because it's a good way to "take inventory" about how you're feeling. "It stretches your arms, legs and back all at once, and you can take notice of what feels good and what you need to work on."
Try adding Downward Dog — or better yet, an entire sun salutation — to your daily workout. To make sure you're doing Downward Dog correctly, make sure you're engaging through the core and drawing up through your quads — without hyperextending your knees — while reaching up and back with your hips and then down toward the earth with your heels. (Check out this girl pictured — she knows her stuff.) Don't let your upper body collapse into itself, or your shoulders sink into your neck; your body should be in two long lines, forming an inverted V.