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Downward dog

Downward Dog is a pose we see with toddlers often, especially as new walkers begin to test their abilities. This is also one of the first strategies that children may use to promote vestibular input. In Downward Dog an individual’s head is out of upright, which is one strategy used by occupational therapists and other professionals to promote vestibular input.

Downward Dog is a pose that should be eased into, especially early in a practice. When directing individuals into this pose, be aware of the following:

  • Cue for proper spinal alignment in order to promote proper core stabilization.
  • Straining neck to look between or ahead of hands, versus in neutral position (looking between hands).
  • Locked elbows, shoulders, and knees
    • Cue for slight to moderate bend in elbows and knees. If necessary, cue individual to drop knees to floor.
      • Giving verbal cue to bend knees slightly one at a time can be a gentle reminder to not lock knees.
  • Do not cue for heels to touch floor or the idea that they could touch the floor. This could cause an individual to attempt to overstretch and strain leg muscles.
  • Use neutral words to cue for tails in the air, some words can be triggers for individuals.

Some individuals tend to “hang out” on their joints causing too much stress/strain to the joint without using surrounding muscle groups. When in the correct position there will be a slight bend in the elbows.  Down dog requires postural stability (core strength) and upper arm strength, when elbows are locked individuals are not using surrounding muscles and putting themselves at risk of injury.

When getting into this pose it is a natural movement to make from forward fold to down-dog. When moving from forward fold, bend the knees as much as needed to put hands flat on the floor. Walk feet back to make the body look like an upside down V. Pedal feet left and right to release tension in knees. Shake head yes and no, and allow shoulders to move down spine as was practiced in forward fold. Hold for 3-5 deep breaths. Keep eyes between hands to protect the neck.

Variations of this pose could include a dog walk or having individuals practice moving around on their hands and feet, keeping their back pockets lifted. This is a great core strengthener and supports further development of bilateral coordination, which is necessary for many skills in life. If you are having individuals move in this pose, be sure to follow the movement with breathing and/or a calm/relaxed pose such as child’s pose or forward fold.

For specific information on strategies you could use consult the sensory and reflexes section, contact the individual’s school-based or private occupational therapist, or comment a general question to be answered.

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