Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Differences in Opinion in Yoga: Head Touching Floor During Downdog?

Today marked a return to yoga (and coincidentally, the return of my IBS... most likely due to a Naturopathic supplement that I will no longer be taking).

My friend Margaret, who is in the middle of her adventurous journey in New Zealand, and I were chatting over facebook (I love that we can stay in touch so much better now through social media) about her rediscovery of yoga. Unlike myself, she is extremely bendy- so I was cautioning her to listen to her body and not over-extend...

Then she mentioned that the instructors keep telling her to touch her head to the floor during downward dog... and was that crazy? My first reaction was "yes...." but I am not a yoga instructor (nor any type of "body" expert ie PT, OT etc), and simply because I have never encountered this in my practice doesn't mean it isn't a "thing".

So I did what I always do when faced with these questions.... I asked twitter.

Interestingly I received extremely disparate answers from "Not safe!!" to "Sure, very Iyengar".

I'll actually take this moment to ask the Iyengar blogger I know what she thinks:
"Yoga Spy- what do you think of this goal?" 
(I love the blogging community!)

 I find this interesting that there are such opposite spectrums in a discipline aligned with physical (and spiritual) body health regarding what is safe and what is not for a basic common posture.

This isn't close to the first time I've read some fairly extreme ends of the spectrum perspectives regarding yoga postures. A recent debate was sparked by a Haligonian yoga instructor, Seth Daley on his blog (and jumped to a mention in EJ) with regards to the dangers of pigeon pose ("Why Pigeon Pose is Wrecking Your Body" see comments from various yoga instructors in the city, one having a PT background).

I wonder how yoga instructors manage these gaping moments of disagreement and theoretical differences when chatting with each other... or if this is why instructors tend to stick within their disciplines? From the comments on Seth's blog, the answer would seem to be "very respectfully".

All this discussion and critical thinking also, hopefully, means growth. Which I feel yoga as a whole will only benefit.

My final answer to Margaret? "Just be careful during your practice, listen to your body and don't push too hard"

Thoughts on yoga disagreements in theory and practice between styles?
More importantly: Suggestions for Margaret?


  1. Obviously I know nothing about Yoga, but the video I followed along with today told me to put my head on the ground while in childs pose, which just wasn't happening for me lol... Am I doing Childs pose wrong somehow? or am I just not that flexible yet?

    1. you are not doing child's pose wrong! :) you can use a towel to help support your forehead while in child's pose and as your hips open your head might move towards the floor.
      (Right yoga peeps?)

    2. Right! When I instruct Child's Pose, I make sure to mention that it's fine to place a folded blanket/towel, block, or even folded hands under the forehead. Sometimes it's not even a matter of the head not reaching the floor--it just feels good to have some support! As long as the hips are stretching and opening, everything is good to go.

  2. As always in yoga, I'd say it's a matter of "for whom and when".

    Some people are more bendy than others. Some have shorter/longer arms and legs. Some have ridiculously flexible hips and or ankles. Or not.

    All of the above plays a part in determining whether or not your head will EVER touch the floor in downward dog.

    So there's no "should" about it. If the head naturally touches the floor, then great. If not, great.

    I disagree with a teacher giving this as an instruction though.

    Love from India!

    1. yes, this was my first instinct as well- but I had also never heard of this as being a potential goal...

  3. Excellent question!

    In Iyengar yoga, one variation of Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) is done with head supported, albeit with a few caveats:

    1. Use a block (or other prop) under the head if necessary--and for the vast majority, a prop is necessary! Adjust block height for your body.

    If you force head to floor, you risk hyperextending shoulder joints and lumbar spine if you're flexible. (If you're stiff, it's impossible to touch down with your head; if you try, you end up bending arms/legs and over-bending the neck!) Either way, you do the pose sloppily to reach the questionable goal of touching head to floor.

    2. It is misguided to aim the head/chest "down" in the pose. Think "up" (pelvis) and "long" (spine/torso). As you refine the pose (over years!), you might find your head closer and closer to the floor. Consider this an effect, not a goal.

    2. On the prop, rest your head just above the hairline (between hairline and crown). Most people will never ground the crown on the floor.

    3. This variation is typically done for long holds in Adho Mukha Svanasana. If you rest your head on just the right height, the pose can become somewhat restorative. In other words, if you're doing repeated Downward Dogs between other poses or during sun salutations, you do not typically ground your head! (I had to address the "Sure, very Iyengar" quote.)

    Pardon my lengthy answer! Ultimately, your response to Margaret (to be careful, to listen to your body, and not to push too hard) applies to this and to all yoga asana.


    1. oh this is VERY interesting!!! thank you very much for your comment Luci :D
      I will definitely direct Margaret here, re: asking for a block- and i really like your analogy of "up" pelvis and "long" spine- i do think we hear a lot of "down" in this pose.

      thanks so much!!

  4. Just saw that you suffer from IBS, too. So interesting, I rarely meet IBS people in the yoga world... if you wouldn't mind and have time could you talk about how your yoga practice affects your IBS?

    1. yes for sure! well, basically- my IBS is stress and emotional related, so the only noticeable benefit is pretty general- i practice yoga to keep stress and emotional stuff balanced which in turn balances (or helps to) my IBS. I haven't found that any particular set of postures or asana are helpful... but then I feel like the "this helps for digestion" is for people who have slight digestive issues and not my completely severe messed up digestive track. here's my post on it in 2010: :)

  5. Interesting! Never heard of that! I never touch my head to the floor.

  6. I can get my head to the floor in Down Dog. I also have hypermobile shoulders and hips, so I can do a lot of things I probably shouldn't if I want to have full use of my limbs in 50 years. It's been a challenge implementing a kind of middle way into my practice, where I enjoy and safely explore my natural flexibility while focusing on building strength, which is what I really need to keep my joints stable. I think YogaSpy's answer is right on and reflects how I try to practice Down Dog--lifting my hips instead of sinking back into them and elongating my spine instead of hanging out in my shoulder joints. Because really, there's no prize for getting your head to the floor!

  7. If I'm teaching a version of Adho Mukha Svanasana with support under the head, I'll instruct my students to lift their hip corners up and back. Once they have the general shape of the pose and the sides of their trunk is nice and long, I'll have them fill the space between the floor and the crown of their head with a block. The idea being that the head goes wherever it goes, there's no force. I love what Yoga Spy said - head to the floor is more the effect than the goal. (Great blog, Eco Yogini!)



I love hearing from you! So I don't miss a comment, I like "pre-approving" them :)
I ask only that we stay respectful.
Also, please note that this is a personal blog and not a space for advertising your company. I reserve the right to delete "advertising" comments.

**NB: The ANONYMOUS option is the BEST way to comment if you don't have a blogger or established google/gmail account.