This basic yoga pose, downward-facing dog, does dual duty, improving strength and flexibility. It gives you an intense stretch in the backs of legs and hips while strengthening shoulders and arm muscles. If you are new to yoga, use the first pose, a modification with a chair, before practicing the full pose on the floor. It will slowly stretch the backs of your legs and gradually prepare your body for the more advanced pose. When doing the full pose, be sure to use a yoga sticky mat if your hands slide on the floor.
1 For the modified pose, stand with your feet together, arms-length away from a sturdy chair (make sure that it won't slide). Inhale and raise both arms overhead. On an exhale, lean forward at your hips and rest your hands on the seat of the chair. Walk backward until your ankles are below your hips. Continue to lift your buttocks upward while keeping your heels on the floor. Lengthen your back and straighten your arms while holding this position. Breathe fully for four to six breaths.
2 For the full pose, kneel on the floor or on a sticky mat. Bring your buttocks back toward your heels and your chest to your thighs. Extend your arms forward, palms to the ground. Coming onto the balls of your feet, exhale as you push your hands into the ground. Lift your hips toward the ceiling and straighten your arms. Focus on pressing your heels toward the floor as you lift your buttocks up toward the ceiling. Think of pushing the floor away from you with your hands, and lengthen your spine. Hold for three to four breaths. Bend your knees, then lower your hips to come out of the pose.
-- Karen Voight