Downward-facing Dog Pose (for beginners and those with tight hamstrings)
If you have tight hamstrings, even as a seasoned practitioner, one of your many struggles in yoga class will be Downward-facing Dog Pose. If you’re forcing the legs straight in spite of your restrictions you may be missing the huge benefits of the pose as a spine lengthener and energiser. I see loads of students struggling with this prominent and fundamental pose. If you want to be able to do more complicated forward folds with less difficulty, and create enough power through the spine to hop up to inversions, you’re going to have to sort this pose out first. As a beginner, just learning to stretch the spine and feel the pose, bend the knees to lessen the demand and start to feel the length and energy of the pose.
The Hard Way
If your legs are tight you’ll have to do a few things in your downward-facing dog pose to get your heels to the ground and straighten your legs. Most likely your stance will be small and your spine rounded. As you force the legs straight in spite of their reluctance, the grip of the muscles on the back of the thighs will tilt your pelvis backwards and round the rest of the spine. This creates a pretty shoddy forward fold and energetically sloppy pose. Sure, it may feel like your stretching your legs, but I think it’s best to prioritise the spine and use more efficient leg stretches like the reclined foot in strap series (Supta Padangusthasana) to address the hamstrings.
The Better Way
Bend your knees! It may at first feel like a cop-out but by bending the knees and relieving the tension in the back of the legs you’ll be able to tilt the pelvis farther forward and lengthen the spine from the lower back all the way up to the spread of the shoulders. Energy will flow freely through the pose and give you a more beneficial experience. Once you have lengthened the spine you can then work on re-straightening the legs little by little, practice by practice.