What if I can’t do downdog? How and why to practice supported yoga poses.

A yoga practice is more than an active way to move the body, breathe and feel good. It is also a way to prepare you for how to respond to the changes that happen in life. In general, as we age, so will our practice. Injuries can often occur in yoga too, which can feel debilitating when you can’t do the poses you love. How well we can make adjustments and modifications will determine the longevity of our practice and there is so much to learn when we are open to other ways of seeing. Let’s take a look at one of the most popular yoga poses in our practice — downdog — and one way we can practice it differently to suit our needs.

Downward Facing Dog Pose or Adho Mukha Svanasana

Effects* – This pose increases circulation and calms your mind. It also strengthens and elongates your back, shoulders, and legs. Doing this pose unsupported brings a sense of accomplishment and helps to ground you in the present moment. It is effective for calming the nervous system when feeling anxious.

These benefits are so wonderful and useful, but what happens when we are not able to feel comfortable in the unsupported downward facing dog pose? Let’s explore the other option.

Iyengar Rope Wall-Inspired Downward Facing Dog Pose

Effects* – This supported version of the pose offers you the ability to elongate the back through traction to the spine which can be helpful for those with low back pain. Circulation is increased to the pelvis and lower lumbar spine. This pose brings a sense of expansive relaxation and helps to ground you into the present moment. The wrists and shoulders are not at risk because there is no weight bearing into the hands. The pose is effective for calming the nervous system and clearing the mind.

What differences and similarities did you observe between the two descriptions?

Ready to give it a try? What you’ll need:

  • A yoga strap that’s at least eight feet long
  • A blanket or towel
  • A door with a sturdy doorknob.

Turn your strap into a very a large loop and place the loop around the doorknob on the outside of the door. Hold on to the loop from the inside of the door, and then close the door. I like to use my front door as it is stronger and more sturdy than the bedroom and bathroom doors in my home. It also has a deadlock, so I can feel certain that the door is securely closed and locked.

Step inside the loop with your back to the door and then adjust the loop accordingly. Adjusting the strap loop size may need to happen a few times before you get it right. I am 5 feet, 6 inches tall and I measure my distance standing around 2-3 feet away from the door.

Hold the loop at about hip height and place your folded blanket over the strap—this blanket serves as padding and support for the groins. Walk forward until the blanket rests at your hip crease, then fold forward over the strap, letting the padded strap press into your hip creases and support your weight. Bend down to come towards downward facing dog pose. Walk your hands forward and your feet back until your heels are touching the wall —it will feel like you are wearing high heels in a downward V shape.  Lengthen the sides of your waist and the crown of the head down towards the floor as you allow the strap to lift your pelvis and upper leg bones up towards the door.  This will help to traction your spine. Play with keeping the knees bent or straightening the legs. Both options are great depending on what feels best in your body. The strap is lifting and supporting you in the pose so that you can surrender into the feel-good aspects of down dog. Notice the stretch you get in your back, the space that is created between the ribs and the opening of the hamstrings. Breathe here for 3-5 cycles of breath, and then slowly make your way back to standing. If you get dizzy, turn around to face the wall and place your forehead on the door until you feel better.

Happy downdogging!

*Reference – The Woman’s Book of Yoga and Health by Linda Sparrowe and Patricia Walden