Yoga for Runners: Who's Down, Dog?

by Karli Taylor

The quickest way for me to get grunts and groans in my weekly Yoga for Runners class is to say: “ Tuck your toes, lift up and back into Downward Facing Dog”.  I’m serious.  You would think that I had just said: “Please start pulling your eyelashes out one at a time”.

Adho Mukha Svanasana, or Downward Facing Dog, is one of the most commonly practiced and most iconic yoga postures around. So why do they hate it so much??

A common yogi belief is that the pose that you need the most is usually the one that you like the least… so why do runners need the dreaded down dog so much?

Walking, running, moving around, standing – most of the things we do during the day bring tension to the whole backside of the body. Not only does it relieve tension in the back of the legs, but it does so without straining the back like many seated folds can.

Because downward dog is essentially an inversion, the typical downward pressure that gravity places on the spine with every step we take is reversed. This allows the vertebra to gently re-align in a natural, easy way.

But wait!  There’s more!  Downward dog is an excellent pose to open the chest and front of the shoulders.  How does this relate to running?

Rounded shoulders and hunched posture from typing, driving and texting can really impact our running efficiency. Not only does the poor alignment impact our stride, but the constriction through the chest limits our ability to breath deeply!

Just in case you’re still not convinced, downward dog also:

  • Stretches and strengthens the feet and Achilles tendons
  • Increases blood flow to the brain improving focus and concentration
  • Strengthens the arms
  • Strengthens the hands and wrists
  • Strengthens the core
  • Relieves tension in the head and neck

Downward Facing Dog - Let's get down to it

Start in a table-top position with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Spread your fingers wide with your index fingers parallel to each other. Press into the fingerprints of all ten fingers and tuck your toes underneath you.

Pressing into your hands, lift your knees away from the floor. At first keep the knees slightly bent and the heels lifted away from the floor. Shift your weight from side to side a few times and alternate straightening one leg at a time to ease into the pose. If your neck feels tight, shake your head and nod it a few times. When you feel ready to settle, bring your feet about hips distance apart and press your heels to the ground as you lift your hips toward the ceiling. 

Keep pressing into your hands and soften your elbows to ensure that they are not locked.  Look between your thighs or shins and press your chest back toward your legs. To an onlooker, your body should look like an upside down V.

Your heels may never touch the ground and that is OK!!  Resist the urge to walk your hands back or your feet forward in an attempt to lower your heels- flat feet is not the goal.

As with most things, if you are practicing downward facing dog on a regular basis, it will eventually get easier.  Add this posture into your stretching routine as well as into your core routine.  It’s a great “break” in between planks, and the transition between the two poses is a great core exercise too!

Karli Taylor: Yoga For Runners Archive

Vajrasana or Thunderbolt Pose

Balance For Runners: Tree Pose or Vrksasana

Strengthening Your Back: Baddha Hasta Uttanasana, or Ragdoll

Combating Runner’s Butt - Ardha Matsyendra

Exercises to Help in Stability - Ananda Balasana

Stretching Hip Flexors – Anjaneyasana & Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

Yoga for Runners Intro

Karli’s classes at Fleet Feet have been changed to Keep Fit on Carmen Road now on Wednesdays at 7:30.

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