7 Stretches to Help Your Heels Touch the Ground in Downward Dog
Downward-Facing Dog (aka Downward Dog) is one of the most common yoga poses out there, but that doesn't mean it's easy. Many of us can't quite get our heels to touch the ground due to tightness in our hamstrings and calves, and you also need shoulder strength and mobility to hold yourself up. As much of a "resting" pose as Downward Dog might seem (compared to the headstands and lunge holds of your practice), you're not alone if you find it tough from time to time.
"The two big movements of the body in Down Dog are shoulder flexion (arms above head) and hip flexion (thighs come closer to chest/stomach)," explained yoga instructor Sarah Randall, RYT-200. By working into both of those movements, you can make this pose more comfortable and accessible for your body, so we asked seven yoga instructors to give us their favorite stretches and poses to help you do just that. Remember, though, that it's OK if your Downward Dog isn't totally textbook by the end. Focus on the overall form of the pose and finding a comfortable way to perform it, and the rest will come with practice and consistency.
Relaxed Standing Forward Fold
"Standing Forward Fold is a great stretch for your hips, hamstrings, and calves — opening the back of your body and slowly releasing tension," said yoga instructor Dominique Scott, RYT-200. "Since your hamstrings are such a big part of Downward Dog, this pose is a great preceding step to warm up your body." This bent-leg variation is good for anyone whose hamstrings and calves are particularly tight.
- Stand with your feet hips-width distance apart.
- Slowly bend from your hips, keeping your knees slightly bent as you fold toward your thighs. Keep your spine as straight as possible, and try not to hunch at your lower back.
- Hold your opposite elbows, or rest your hands on the floor or your knees or shins.
- Enjoy this stretch for five breaths.
Puppy Pose is a "similar shape to Down Dog in the upper body, but your knees are on the ground," explained Jody Braverman, RYT-2000. "Practicing this pose will help open your shoulders to get the perfect alignment of the upper body in Down Dog."
- Start on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- Slide or walk your hands forward slowly until your hips are aligned about over your knees and your arms are straight. If you can, set your forehead or chin on the ground.
- Hold for 30 seconds to a minute.
- To come out of the pose, slowly walk your knees backward until you're flat on your belly, then return to a sitting position.
If you want to get your heels closer to the floor in Downward Dog, "ankle mobility is necessary," Randall said. This pose will improve your flexibility in your ankles while opening up your hips.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips. Bend your knees and lower your hips toward the ground, as low as you can go while keeping your heels on the ground.
- Bring your palms together at your heart center, and firmly press your elbows against the inside of your knees. This will help to open your hips even farther. Shift weight onto your heels, and lengthen the crown of your head toward the ceiling.
- Hold the pose for five deep breaths.
Pyramid Pose "stretches the whole body, in particular the hips, hamstrings, and calves," said yoga instructor Caitlin Moyer, RYT-200, while also building calf and ankle strength.
- Stand with both feet together at the front of your mat. Step one foot directly behind you, about two feet, and turn it out at about a 45-degree angle.
- Bend from your hips to place your hands on either side of your front foot, keeping your front leg slightly bent. You can also place your hands on blocks or on your shin. Keep your back as long and straight as possible to increase the stretch in your hamstrings.
- Hold for five deep breaths, then lift your torso up. Repeat this pose with your other leg forward.
"Most people believe that Child's Pose is a very passive pose, but it can actually do wonders for lengthening and stretching your neck and back," said certified Kaivalya Yoga instructor Jeanine Duval. "When doing Downward Dog, the goal is to lengthen the body, so the more you find opportunities to lengthen when you stretch, the better."
- Kneel on your mat with your knees slightly wider than hips-width apart with your big toes touching behind you. Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale, fold forward. Lengthen your neck and spine by drawing your ribs away from your tailbone and the crown of your head away from your shoulders.
- Rest your arms beside your legs, with palms facing up, or extend your arms out in front of you.
- Stay here for five to 10 breaths.
Plank Pose is helpful for Downward Dog because "it helps you lengthen the body in both directions while sending energy to the earth," said yoga instructor Alicia Ferguson, cofounder of BK Yoga Club. Plank Pose helps prepare your wrists, arms, and ankles to be more comfortable bearing your bodyweight in Downward Dog and also activates your core and hamstrings, she explained.
- Start on your hands and knees with your wrists under your shoulders.
- Step your feet back one by one until your body is in a straight line, balanced on your hands and the balls of your feet. Pull your core in toward your spine to stabilize.
- Hold here for 30 seconds, keeping your core engaged.
Toe Breaker Pose
Toe Breaker Pose, also called Toes Pose, "is essential to open the soles of the feet" or your fascia, said Tatyana Souza, E-RYT 500, owner of Coolidge Yoga. This starts to open up your "entire back fascial chain," she explained, "which is also lengthened in Down Dog."
- Start on all fours, and tuck your toes under your heels.
- Walk your hips backward until your butt is resting on top of your heels with your spine straight. Make sure all 10 toes are flexed, tucked under your foot, and facing forward, even your pinky toes.
- Hold for five to eight breaths.