Feel Better with 3 Modifcations for Downward-Facing Dog

04/01/2015 08:36 am ET | Updated May 31, 2015

girl demonstrating downward facing dog

Ahh, Downward-Facing Dog—so peaceful, so restorative, so blissful. And such a long journey to get to that point. Even though it may be a "resting" pose for me now, for a long time, it required just as much work and effort as any other strength-building posture. My shoulders would tremble, my back would round, and my hamstrings were so tight I thought they might snap if I held it for too long. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention my wrists. Holy cow, I remember thinking they would never feel comfortable!

Thank goodness I was wrong. Even the most experienced yogis had similar beginnings, and I always remind my students that in yoga, progress is inevitable. But until then, it's always nice to have some options. Am I right?

girl demonstrating downward facing dog

Modification 1: Knees Bent

This version is a classic for a reason. This is my go-to adjustment when your heels won't touch the mat (which, by the way, is not incorrect!) or when your hamstrings and calves are on the tight side. Bending the knees can help you keep the integrity of the pose without sacrificing proper alignment.

girl demonstrating downward facing dog

Modification 2: Heels Supported

When your heels are more than a couple inches from the mat and the calves and achilles are so tight that you can't hold Downward-Facing Dog without your legs shaking, bringing the mat closer to you can help. Placing a rolled-up towel or mat under your heels frees up the whole body. Instead of muscling through the shakes, it can seek its fullest expression of the pose. Keep the legs active in this modification. It is easy to completely relax the quadriceps, lock out the knees, round the back, and dump your weight forward in to the shoulders and wrists, which will only cause pain in the upper body. Keeping a slight bend in the knees makes it easier to tilt the pelvis up and back, so you can lengthen the hamstrings and take the pressure out of the wrists. Don't let this trick take all the effort out of your pose. You can do it!

girl demonstrating downward facing dog

Modification 3: One Forearm Down

If your wrists bother you, try this Dolphin-Dog hybrid. This anatomically sound option allows you to stay with the flow of a class while giving your wrists a bit of a break—one at a time. This modification plays nicely with others, too. You can still keep a towel rolled under your heels and/or bend your knees if that's what feels good for you. In other words, you don't have to choose resting your wrists over accommodating tight hamstrings. Modifications that build on each other are my favorites!

erin motz headshot

About Erin Motz

"Listen, I'm not your traditional yogi: I'm the carnivorous, red wine, and French cheese-loving type and I teach vinyasa flow. My aim is to keep my classes fun and accessible, both in the studio and online. You won't hear much Sanskrit, I totally forgive you if you don't know your asana from your elbow, and I firmly believe that yoga is for everyone, from the kale-loving vegan to the prize-winning deer hunter. I may be a Bad Yogi, but if I'm being totally honest, teaching yoga has been one of my greatest pleasures; I practice to feed my teaching, but I teach to feed my life."

Want to modify other yoga poses? Start with adjusting your chaturanga.