As I have tried to continue dropping that last few pounds that appear to be so stubborn, I have gone back to some simple movements that challenge body strength and stamina. One of these is rope jumping for cardio. The other is a few simple yoga movements that demand strength but offer some powerful stretching and chest opening results as well.
Today, I want to focus only on the downward facing dog and the upward facing dog. Most yoga sequences will have them combined for maximum core workouts. I recommend that you find a few moments of solace each day to experiment and perfect this very simple yoga transition. I have never taken a yoga class but really enjoy the grace and power that a well trained yoga advocate can perform.
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First, as always I like to show a video of the basic movement. You probably can find dozens of videos on these two positions. This one is not great but allows us to discuss options on the movements as we gain confidence and control.
First, the model, Amy, spent no time discussing the various options on how to initially assume the downward facing dog. She simply went from kneeling on all fours to the raised position. For those who have less than efficient core strength, this may be slightly more difficult. I often find that unless I have warmed up my body with other exercises, this position can be achieved in other ways.
I like to stand with feet slightly wider than hip distance and begin to bend forward at the hips as I roll my spine slowly toward the floor. With me, I usually take 4-6 slow rolls forward and then back up to a standing position before I can place my hands onto the floor in a somewhat flat position. Once I have achieved this flexibility, I simply walk my hands out in front of me until I have assume the downward position.
Notice that Amy assumes that many will not be able to take this position without flexing the knees. Normally, if I keep my legs locked, my heels will be off the floor. If I flex my legs slightly, I can drive my heels into the the floor and feel the tug in the hamstrings as they begin to open.
The idea is that you want your body to assume a perfect inverted "V".
From the base of your palms to the top of your hips/glutes and then back down to your heels as close to the floor as possible. As you assume this position, you want to think in terms of "lengthening your body" as much as possible. Keep your shoulders pulled back and away from the neck and head. If you have a mirror or a partner, I find that forcing my back to a flat position is the most difficult part. To do it properly demands that you expand your chest outward and allow it to open wide. This is hard for men who work so hard on bench presses etc to build their pecs.
Most yoga instructors will emphasize that you keep the fingers as wide as possible as you also drive your hands to the floor as you attempt to flatten your back. Keep you head/neck in alignment with your spine. Try to relax the neck as much as possible.
Amy doesn't discuss the transition except to say that you want to drive your hips forward as you lower your body. I would suggest that you brace your core, sink the navel to the back (OK, as close as possible), and actively think of the pressure being applied to the shoulder joint as you lower yourself. Don't allow the shoulders to release and hug the ears. Keep them back and down as much as possible at all times. Notice from the video the strength and the slow engagement of her muscles in her delts and triceps as she lowers and raises her body. Her rear delts as they combine with her upper lats muscles appear to be especially strong.
On Your Toes for the Purest
In the downward position, Amy allows her toes to extend and thus her thighs lay onto the floor. You can still exert some effort even in this position but the real benefits are experienced if you can stay on your toes and allow your thighs to stay just an inch off the floor. It is more difficult in this position to keep your shoulders down and back but it offers lots of benefits in making you open your chest in the downward position. Hold your head high as you look straight ahead and press your chest forward almost like an arrogant warrior. With the toes curled under, you also receive maximum flexibility in the hip flexors and the glutes and lower back.
The Real Winners Here
The hips and lower back is the junction box.... no I take that back, it is the panel box for all muscle activity in the body. Your core is wrapped with many unnamed smaller internal muscles that support the lower spine and keep us upright while most of the world's creatures move around on all fours. We have lost the ability to swing through the trees on vines like the apes and chimps. Yet as we age we also are losing the battle to support our bodies in a full upright position. Unless we actively exercise and strengthen our lower back muscles, our backs tend to round, weaken, and close in the chest cavity that is so very important to our life. Keeping the chest open and expanded is critical to digestion, circulation, and breathing deeply as we supply our cells with O2. So the real winner here is first our many smaller muscles around the lower spine, but in the end the winner is you.