Why Is Downward Dog So Hard?

Downward dog, also known as Adho Mukha Savasana, makes an appearance in almost every yoga class at least once. For some folks, the cue to shift into downward dog triggers dread. While the pose may challenge you, it shouldn’t be a painful pose. 

If the downward dog pose elicits pain throughout your body (and not in a good, muscle-burning way), there’s a good chance you’re doing something wrong. You might unintentionally place stress in the wrong areas of your body, causing pain throughout the pose. We’re here to help you troubleshoot downward dog and why it’s so tricky, along with a few bonus tips towards the end, so continue reading to learn more!

Is Downward Dog Supposed To Be Hard?

Downward dog isn’t usually considered a challenging pose in yoga flows, and many folks even consider it a comfortable resting pose that serves as a break from fast-paced flows. However, each body is different, so what might be easy for one individual might challenge you, but that’s okay!

Beginners might find downward dog to be one of the trickier poses of a yoga flow, usually because they’re placing stress in the wrong areas of their bodies. Newbies often make several mistakes that can cause pain and raise the difficulty of the pose. So, while it shouldn’t be overly challenging, you might find this pose hard when you first start practicing yoga. 

Why Is Downward Dog So Difficult For Me?

Downward dog is a standard move in many yoga flows, but as you shift your weight into this pose, you might struggle to maintain it. This can happen for various reasons, but it’s often because this pose challenges each muscle in terms of strength and flexibility. That said, there are a few more specific reasons for the difficulty, including the following:

Tight Calves

Tight muscles are a hindrance in many yoga poses, including downward dog. This particular move challenges your calves to loosen and stretch, which can be difficult if you have tight, stiff calf muscles. When these muscles are tight, they pull on the Achilles tendon, which directly affects ankle flexion. 

So, you might struggle to lower your heels, leading you to try to simplify the move. Many times, beginners walk their hands closer to their feet in an attempt to relieve the pull on their calves. When you do this, your spine rounds, causing compression on the front of your body. On top of that, this shifts most of your weight to your shoulders and wrists, making the move even harder. 

Inflexible Wrists

Weak or inflexible wrists can make it difficult to distribute your weight throughout your upper body evenly. This can force other areas of your body to compensate, causing strain in the wrong places. When you shift your weight like this, downward dog will likely become a painful and overall challenging pose. 

Weak Upper Body Muscles 

If you’re new to yoga and this type of training, you may have a weaker upper body. Many folks live primarily sedentary lifestyles that don’t require much input from their upper body muscles, which can lead to a weak upper half. When these muscles are weak, downward dog often feels like an incredibly challenging pose, nothing like the relaxing respite many folks view it as. 

You’ll probably scrunch your shoulders up to your ears to compensate for these muscles. While this might help relieve tension or make the move feel slightly more manageable, it places strain throughout the body, particularly in the wrists. 

Stiff Hamstrings

Sedentary lifestyles don’t only affect the upper body; they also affect the lower half. Folks that spend most of their days sitting may notice their hamstrings become stiff and tight, which will make downward dog difficult. 

This pose forces the hamstring to elongate, which is tricky to do when the muscles are tight. So, just like having tight calves, stiff hamstrings will likely cause you to shift your weight to your upper body. This strains your shoulders, elbows, and wrists as they attempt to bear most of your weight. Combined with a weak upper body, stiff hamstrings can make downward dog a nightmare. 

Lack Of Shoulder Mobility

Shoulder mobility is a problem area for many people, especially those who spend most of the day sitting and slumped over a desk. Your shoulders may become tight, causing pain and discomfort as you try to maintain a downward dog. 

Adjustments For A More Comfortable Downward Dog

Although downward dog may be the last thing you want to do during yoga, you should work on strengthening and elongating problem areas that pertain to this pose. Eventually, you’ll be able to maintain a downward dog comfortably (or at least more comfortably). 

Realign Your Feet

Fixing your form in a downward dog starts at your feet, so let’s start there. Alignment is critical – you need to align your feet in a comfortable position to relieve stress in the wrong areas. Position your feet hip distance apart before moving into downward dog, ensuring your toes point toward the front edge of your yoga mat. By keeping your feet aligned, your hips remain evenly positioned for optimal comfort throughout your body, but specifically in your hips, legs, and feet. 

Support Your Wrists

Many people experience discomfort in their hands and wrists in the downward dog pose. To relieve stress in these areas, you need to make a few tweaks to your form. First, place your hands shoulder distance apart. 

Keep your hands facing forward, with the middle finger pointing straight toward the top edge of the mat. Spread your fingers wide, as this will help you evenly distribute your weight. Slightly bend your elbows, as this shifts your weight to your muscles (instead of forcing your bones to bear the weight). 

In some cases, these tweaks might not be enough. So, if your wrists are uncomfortable, roll a blanket or towel under your palms to cushion your wrists. Alternatively, use a yoga block to raise the floor slightly, as this will shift some of your weight to your legs and relieve pressure on your upper body. 

Keep Your Knees Soft

If your calves or hamstrings feel particularly tight, bend your knees as you hold the pose. This relieves stress in the backs of our legs as the tight muscles try to elongate. Keep your knees soft, never locking out any joints. 

Bend your knees as much as you need to relieve tension in the backs of your legs. For most folks, this is just a slight bend in the knees, but you might need to bend them a bit more. However, if you bend your knees, avoid placing the stress on other areas of your body. Keep your weight evenly distributed throughout your body, ensuring you don’t force your upper body to support your entire frame. 

Relax Your Shoulders 

Many people carry tension in their necks and shoulders, especially after a long day of sitting at a desk. So, after you move your body to the most comfortable down dog position (as outlined above), it’s time to relax your neck and shoulders. 

This can be tricky, as many of us are used to this tension. Because of this, relieving the tightness in these areas is a conscious effort. Try turning your head side to side, gently shaking it to encourage your neck to relax. Let your neck relax while maintaining a neutral spine. 

Breathe deeply through the pose, slowly lowering your shoulders away from your ears. Don’t flare your shoulder blades; keep them in a comfortable position as you sink into the pose. 

Use your Muscles

Although downward dog is often considered a relaxing pose, this doesn’t mean you should let the muscles in your body go lax and simply hang there. If you fail to contract your muscles in this pose, your body weight will be less balanced. 

This can lead to discomfort in the pose, so remember to actively engage your muscles. As you hold the pose, concentrate on finding the perfect balance of your body weight between your upper and lower body.