This is not a classic yoga pose but more of a therapeutic posture I learned from Dr. Ginger Garner, DPT of Living Well Institute. It's great for beginners as well as experienced yogis to practice postural awareness and improve core strength. Down Dog Prep is best done with a teacher or partner who can observe and give you feedback about your spinal alignment because even the most experienced yogis are often not fully aware of subtle shifts in posture. You can use a mirror for gauging your own alignment but this is not ideal because you can not observe your posture from different angles and because turning your head to look in the mirror may affect your alignment.
Muscles Strengthened: Serratus anterior, pectorals, triceps, gluteals, quadriceps, transverse abdominus, errector spinae (specifically lumbar multifidi)
Points of Body Awareness:
-The spine in a neutral position, that means there is a small inner curve in the
lower back, small outer curve between the shoulder blades, slight inner curve of
-The shoulders are aligned directly above the wrists.
-Elbows are strait but not locked out.
-Fingers spread, with the index finger pointing strait ahead.
-Hips are aligned directly above the knees.
-The toes are curled under, preparing to take weight onto the balls of the feet.
*Exhale and draw the navel in toward your spine to activate the transverse abdominis muscle. Inhale and maintain that activation. Exhale and lift the knees just a few inches off the mat.
*Is your spine still in neutral position after you lift the knees? Most people will lose the inward curve of the lumbar spine (lordosis). Many will also increase the curvature of the middle spine (thoracic kyphosis). Some people will collapse more in the middle spine.
*Can you hold neutral spine position with the knees hovering one inch off the mat for at least 3 TATD breath cycles?
*Once you’ve mastered the ability move into the pose and hold neutral spine, work on endurance by hold longer and longer. Progress to 5 breath cycles, all the way up to 10 or 12 cycles or about a minute long hold.
*Release any unnecessary tension - are you gripping in the neck or facial muscles?
*Once you feel confident with static stabilization, try adding some dynamic work. One way to do this is to learn to transition to a bent-knee down dog without rounding the spine.
*You can also try gliding forward and back without moving the knees up and down.
*Try isolating scapular protraction/retraction while maintaining neutral spine.
*Finally progress to dynamic stability of the lumbar spine by doing pelvic tilts with the knees hovering while maintaining stability in the cervical/thoracic spine.
Here's a demo of a few of these challenge variations:
This is a great exercise for balancing co-contraction of core muscle groups. It is also a good pose to use for assessment of how the muscles are functioning. If the superficial abdominals are overpowering the spinal extensors, you will see a loss of lordosis. This will happen to most people when they first try the pose but they should be able to correct this with minimal cueing. If they can not correct it, it might be an indication of weakness of the spinal extensors or an inability to inhibit the rectus abdominis or obliques.
If you observe loss of the normal kyphosis, this may also be due to weakness of the spinal extensors as well as weakness or inhibition of serratus anterior. Excessive tension in the neck and shoulders might be due to a pattern of accessory muscle breathing and a lack of diaphragmatic breathing. So much to observe and analyze with this pose!