Here’s One Of The Most Important Stretches An Active Senior Can Do.

[Editor Note: Our summer series Fitness Focus is taking a distinctive turn toward several important yoga positions. We’ve highlighted the Squat, the Plank, and now the Down Dog.  We are a bit biased toward these poses because we have experienced personal progress and various muscle pain relief by practicing them.  We’re curious, too, about your experiences with these and others.  Let us know.]

Downward Facing Dog
Credit: Yoga Basics

Hamstrings are the big muscles behind your thighs.  If you stand and raise one heel towards your backside, you are using your hamstrings. When you sit down on a chair, those muscles are relaxed and become shortened and tight.  When they are tight, they pull on your hips and, in our experience, have been one source of classic lower back pain.  There are other sources, of course, i.e., bulging discs, arthritis and even infection.  But we’ve found that stretching those hamstrings goes a long way in resolving that uncomfortable lower back.

According to physical therapists, the most effective way to stretch those hamstrings and many other muscle sets is the Down Dog pose (aka Downward Facing Dog, or Adho Mukha Svanasna).

It is a rather simple pose that involves your entire body.  You start on your hands and knees, hands under shoulders, knees under hips.  With an exhale, up you go, bringing your rear end up, your head between your shoulders and your legs as straight as you can get them.  Spread your hands out like a star fish and gaze back at your shins while keeping your neck in line with your spine. The ideal is to plant your heels down on the floor while your legs are straight, your spine lengthened and your belly button drawn into your spine. Chances are, you’re not going to get your heels down if you’re just starting.  Or perhaps never. Most people feel comfortable just “pedaling” their heels up and down as a first step to getting comfortable.

Breath slowly and deeply from your belly button.  You are strengthening your shoulders, neck, back, glutes, and lots of other muscles while you are stretching your hamstrings.

One-Legged Down Dog is an easy variation.
Credit: Yoga Basics

From Down Dog, you can transition to Plank, hold that for 10-20 seconds, and then go back to Down Dog.  Back and forth between those two is a tremendous stretching and strengthening exercise. Breathe deeply and slowly. We’ve heard this combination is used in various military boot camps to get recruits into shape.

There are several variations you can use once you get into Down Dog.  Lifting one leg straight up is one.  There are others which you can check here.

As usual, if you have any carpal tunnel, shoulder, back, joint issues, or unregulated high blood pressure, please check with a health care professional before you try any of these stretches.

Here’s a demonstration and tips for correcting common problems in doing Downward Dog.

 

 

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