Mastering Transitions – Stepping Through from Down Dog

Stepping through from Downward Facing Dog (into a lunge, forward fold, or really any other pose) is one of those tricky transitions that you either love or…you know, don’t quite love yet. Depending on the physical dimensions of your skeleton, arm strength, core strength, and a number of other factors, stepping through can either come effortlessly to you as you tiptoe through like a soundless ballerina or require a whole lot of clunking around as you stomp like an elephant and not even land your foot halfway up the mat.

Fear not if you fall into this category! You can step through with ease and control by using tricks and techniques. There are many exercises you can do to get closer to your goal of stepping through the Down Dog.

Play with Props

Different dimensions always influence asanas. The shape of your muscles and ligaments, the amount of “room to move” at your joints, and the length of your bones all affect how poses and transitions appear and feel in your body. This Transition is not an exception. It is important to compare the length of the arms and legs. You are lucky if you have long, slender arms. You can also play with props if your arms are shorter than your legs. It can be a game-changer to use blocks under your hands when making this Transition. You can make this Transition easier by moving the floor away so you can elevate your hips and legs as you place one foot between your hands. You may find it difficult to do this, but I recommend you try it by putting yourself on blocks. You will be surprised at the results.

Prepare Your Shape

We may not always have time or the option to grab some blocks in a class that is moving quickly. When props aren’t available, you can still make the Transition smooth by teaching the correct muscle groups at the right time. Prepare your hips, and then prepare your legs. Start in Downward Facing Dog. As you extend your fingers forward, try to slide them on the sticky mat. Also, lift your sit bones toward the sky. Reach your right leg upwards as you inhale. Keep your hips squared on the floor. Inwardly spiral your right thighbone toward the mat while keeping your toes facing down. Draw your belly button up and toward your ribs while activating your core. As you exhale, maintain your Down Dog position (keeping your hips, arms, and left leg in the same place) and bend your right knee deeply. As you draw that knee toward your chest, allow your heel to kick the seat. Continue to maintain this Down Dog position, but pull your thigh towards your chest. Make yourself compact. Repeat the same process on the other side.

Activate your arms & core.

You can now focus on your core and arms. Start in Down Dog once more. All of the previous movements should be repeated: fingers extending forward, hips reaching upward, belly firmly engaged, and legs active and firm. Inhale again to lift your right leg toward the ceiling while keeping your hips squared on the floor. As you spiral inwards, bring your right thighbone to the floor and point your toes as if you were a ballerina. (And channel her graceful energy at the same time!). Inhale and draw the pit of the belly toward your spine. Without opening your hip joints, try to lift your leg slightly higher towards the sky by using your core strength. If you keep your hips squared, you’ll create a strong abdominal activation.

As you exhale again, draw your right thigh towards your chest, and then shift your weight forward to get into Plank with your shoulders directly above your wrists. While hugging your knee toward your chest, press the floor away and round your spine deeply (creating a ‘C-shape or cat pose). Keep your shoulders aligned over your wrists, and kick your left heel back with force. As you exhale, lift your hips and legs into the Three-Legged Down Dog.

As you might have noticed, it is a difficult exercise. As long as you are able to maintain proper alignment, continue to practice this knee-to-nose core plan. Make sure you practice on both sides. You can take it a step further by hugging your knee towards your nose and holding there for several long, deep breaths.

You can take it a step further by lowering and raising your right leg in order to hover and free-float just above the mat and then bringing your leg back to your body. Try all or some of these variations to help you build strength, endurance, and stamina to move through your Down Dog.

Take it Step-by-Step

You can then work on the Transition from Downward Facing Dog to the Full Transition.

Start in Down Dog. You can use blocks under your hands or not. It’s up to you. You can find the same engagement in your entire body, from your fingertips up to your hips and your heels. Sweep your right leg up to the ceiling and bring your hips down to the floor. Exhaling, bring your knee towards your nose. Round your back, and shift your weight forward to a Plank. Press the mat away from you, and then look up toward the top. As you begin to lower your heel, continue to hug your knee toward your chest. It would be best if you aimed to get the heel further forward than where you want it to be. Lift your hips just a tiny bit before you place your foot on the mat. This will give you the room to move your foot between your hands. While you lower your foot to the mat, continue to suction your belly button toward your spine. Slowly lower your heel, then the ball of the foot, and finally your toes. It may be easier to achieve this by lifting your heels as you step through.

Play with it and practice. Be sure to step each leg equally forward to maintain your balance. Enjoy the journey, and don’t get attached to the result. You will learn something about yourself or your mind as you go along. Every time you step on your mat, something new is learned, whether it’s how to move through Down Dog or how to stop becoming attached to your practice.

You will soon be able to make this difficult Transition with grace and ease if you practice each step with precision, accuracy, and control. Enjoy the journey and the Transition until then.

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