Ask Aunt Yoga: Should Your Heels Be on the Floor in Downward Dog?

Class in Downward Facing Dog
Class in Downward Facing Dog. Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Dear Aunt Yoga,

In downward facing dog, I cannot get my heals completely to the floor. Is that a future goal to work towards?

R.B.

Dear R.B.,

Pictures of downward dog quite often show the heels touching the floor. Iyengar's Light on Yoga, where we look for the answers to many of our alignment question, certainly shows the heels resting on the floor. The again, Iyengar is also doing the pose with his head on the floor, which is not how most people teach it these days.

It's fair to say that thinking on this pose has evolved in recent years. Some people with very open hamstrings and calves may be able to comdortably bring their heels to the ground while keeping the integrity of the rest of the posture. But is this really the "goal" of the pose? In my way of thinking, the answer is no. While you want to make sure that you're not up on the balls of your feet like a Barbie doll (a common beginners' mistake), it's just fine if your heels hover above the ground now and forever.

One of the reasons we do downward facing dog so often in yoga is that it is a whole body pose. The arms are working, the core is engaged, the legs are strong and at the same time getting an amazing stretch down the hamstrings and calves. If your heels are resting comfortably on the floor, you're not getting that back-of-the-leg stretch. In fact, some teachers will instruct students whose heels do come down easily to the floor to scoot their feet back a bit until the heels come up again.

Now, you don't want to take this too far and end up in a plank, but the point is, don't worry too much about the heels being off the floor. It's a good place to be in this pose. Chances are your head won't be grazing the floor any time soon either.

And one more thing: although it's useful to know what the ideal version of a pose looks like, try not to get too attached to attaining these sorts of goals in your yoga practice.

One of yoga's lessons is to be in the present, accept where you are on any particular day, and let go of the constant grasping after higher and higher levels of achievement that we've become accustomed to. That goes double for grasping after achievement of more advanced or perfect yoga poses. It kind of defeats the purpose.

Namaste,

Aunt Yoga

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