Awesome Alignment: Push-Ups and Down Dog

Empower Your Poses With Intention And Technique – Hand and Wrist Focus

Isn’t it amazing how many different ways there are to do things? In yoga, as well as in the fitness world, the form you use can vary depending on the teacher or trainer you’re working with.

But have you ever done a pose or exercise that just didn’t feel good, or made a part of you hurt?

The way you align (or misalign) can be the difference between blissful freedom and risk of injury.

Often in yoga class or in yoga boot camp someone will let me know that their wrist or knee hurts, and I can help them adjust in such a way that the pain completely leaves. To me, and to those who discover the power of good alignment, this is an incredible thing to learn because it makes your practice a lot more enjoyable AND effective!

There are ways to position your body that feel good and are incredibly therapeutic.

Also, when you do yoga or work out with a positive intention in mind, you’re going to have a much better experience and bring greater benefit. Alignment includes your attitude, so remember to make your practice meaningful and center in using your breath.

In Anusara® yoga, we use the Universal Principles of Alignment™ to create an optimal flow of circulation and range of motion that is delightfully healing. The Universal Principles of Alignment (UPA) weave intention and technique in an elegant system that can be applied to anything, on and off the mat.

In this article we’ll focus on applying this alignment to Push-Ups and Downward Dog, with a focus on the happiness of your hands and wrists. To be clear, this isn’t the “Only” or “Right” way to do these poses, rather, this alignment is one way that works very well to stay safe and feel satisfied.

Powerful Push-Ups

Let’s look at common misalignments and optimal alignment in Push-ups, as well as some variations to spice up this exercise.

Common misalignments include:

  • Hands turned in or out, inner hands lifting
  • Head hanging down, shoulders rounding forward
  • Hips and lower back either rounded up or sagging down
  • Trying to do the exercise with only the arms rather than the whole body
  • Hating every moment of it

Why do these matter?

Well, if your head hangs down your shoulders are likely to roll forward and be compromised. If your hands are turned or lifting, your wrists are likely to hurt. If your hips hang down your lower back isn’t being supported. If you’ve got a punishing mindset then it can feel like self-abuse.

And all of these misalignments make the exercise SO much harder and less effective.

Key Optimal Alignment Tips for Push-Ups:

  • Check your hands and wrists (see focus on hands and wrists on opposite page).
  • Keep your head in line with your spine and the fronts of your shoulders lifted back.
  • Integrate by drawing legs and arms towards the midline so that your whole body participates and feels strong.
  • Keep the tops of your thighs lifted, and scoop your tailbone down to tone and power your core.
  • Smile! (This can be an inward or outward smile, or at least let yourself laugh a little at how hard it is while you grunt.)

Many women shy away from push-ups, underestimating their own ability to build strength and stamina.

However, integrating aligned push-ups into your practice not only benefits your upper body strength, but also your core (abs, back and pelvis stabilizers) and legs. In addition they increase your cardiovascular endurance and give you more energy and ability to do the things you want to do!

Here Are Some Fun Push-Up Variations:

Putting your hands on a bench, fit ball, chair, or even a wall, makes this exercise easier. It’s a great place to start or to challenge your core in a different way.

Lift your feet up for more challenge!

Love the one legged push-ups!

Alignment for Hands and Wrists:

Anytime your hands are flat (like in push-ups, plank, cobra, down dog, etc.) you can use this alignment to keep your wrists safe. It’s a good idea to practice this in a non-weight bearing pose first, like putting your hands on a table and doing this as your read.

Start by taking a deep breath, getting tall, and sliding your shoulders sweetly back.

1. Foundation: Place your hands with wrist creases parallel to top of mat, (or edge of table) 5 fingertips and 4 corners of hands (as shown here) pressing firmly down.
Keeping that:
2. Muscular Energy: Without moving your hands, hug your forearms toward each other and draw your hands toward your body to tone the undersides of your arms. You should feel like your arms are plugging into your heart.
Keeping that:
3. Organic Energy: Extend from your heart through the bones of your arms, all the way out through all 5 fingertips and all 4 corners of your hands. This balances the engaging, integrating aspect of Muscular Energy, allowing you to feel more freedom in the pose.

How To Do A Delightful Downward Dog

In many yoga practices this is the most frequently visited pose. I sometimes think of it as “Home Base.” It can be a joy or incredibly awkward, depending on how well you know how to align.

Common misalignments are very similar to push-ups, such as lack of awareness in the hands, slumped or collapsed shoulders, rounded lower back, not using the whole body to do the pose, and thinking “Oh no, not dog pose again!”

Optimal Alignment in Downward Dog

  • Align your hands precisely, outer edge of the shoulders in line with the center of the wrists.
  • Start with your knees bent, especially if you have tight hamstrings – this allows you to keep your lower back long and NOT rounded up.
  • Create space with your breath by lengthening from your hips to armpits, and draw your shoulder blades onto your back.
  • As you integrate your arms toward each other, also draw your shins toward each other keeping the feet hip width apart.
  • Keeping the knees bent, send your inner thighs back without letting your knees roll in. Doing this creates space in your back.
  • Keeping the lower back long and not allowing it to round up, scoop your tail bone toward your heels so you feel your lower belly tone and lengthens the lower back.
  • From your heart, stretch down through your arms and hands, and from your heart, extend up and over your hips, down through your legs bringing them as straight as possible without letting the lower back round. (This means if your hamstrings are tight you might keep your knees slightly bent in down dog.)
  • Breathe and think peaceful thoughts, even if the only encouraging thing you can manage is “Well, at least we’ll move to another pose soon.” Or, “Whew! This pose is a welcome rest!”

This is Downward Dog at the wall - a great way to start learning the alignment and strengthening your wrists if you have injuries.

Alignment as Therapy

If you’re fully in optimal alignment you shouldn’t have any pain, in fact, whatever you’re doing in good alignment should feel GOOD. You’ll more likely be able to notice the life energy that we cultivate in yoga, Prana, flowing through you and nourishing your whole being.

It’s this feeling of happiness and health that draws us to yoga.

If your body hurts it’s telling you something is off, so please listen to it.

Sometimes the tiniest adjustment or a certain stretch is all it takes, and sometimes a full yoga therapy session is in order to identify and shift held patterns of misalignment.

Either way, learning how to optimally align can make all the difference and give you incredible freedom so you can enjoy your practice and life that much more!

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Posted in Fitness by Katrina Ariel | No Comments Yet

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