Downward Facing Dog, Adho Mukha Svasana is great stretch for the back, builds arm, leg and core strength. Done properly it shouldn’t injure you. Some of the common mistakes which may cause injury are due to poor alignment or inadequate props. Let’s discuss incorrect alignment first.
In this pose your weight should be equally split between your arms and your feet. If this pose causes you pain in your wrists, perhaps you are not angling backwards enough to put weight on your feet. Look at a dog when they are in this stretch. They are lifting up so that the butt bones ( or “sit” bones) are the highest part of the pose. Try to imitate this stance. Rolling too far forward towards your wrists causes the body to enter a different pose, called “plank.” The wrists should be parallel with the front edge of your mat, your palms flat with weight on the inner part of the hand – avoid “cupping” the palm – set it flat on the mat. The forearms should be resisting away from the mat.
Other possible alignment problems: 1) your lower back hurts. Try having your feet farther apart, parallel and perhaps as far apart as the mat.
2) Your heels don’t reach the floor. Don’t worry about it, if your back is straight, it’s okay if your knees are bent, and you may remain on the balls of your feet.
3) Your feel are not parallel – this makes it difficult to stretch the hamstrings. Start in Tadasana with the feet hips with distance apart, and maintain this same distance for your downward facing dog.
4) Your elbows are sore afterwards – if you hyperextend your arms, don’t “lock” your arms, maintain a micro bend in your arm in this pose.
The second set of problems which arise are due to poor props. This is a relatively easy pose to do which has been made more challenging by inexpensive yoga mats. I have observed that cheaper mats in the 10 to 20 dollar range seem to be cushy “pads” and not sticky mats. As a result, when you push back into downward facing dog you may feel yourself slipping forward if you put weight into your hands.
There are several things you can do to offset this issue. The cheapest fix is to wash your mat. Use some diluted dishwashing soap, or professional mat wash – rinse off the mat and let it hang up to dry (indoors) for a couple of days. The mat may become sun damaged and brittle if you leave it outside to dry.
Second least expensive fix if that doesn’t work: you can try using chalk on your hands, available at sporting goods stores.
The next inexpensive fix is to wear yoga gloves. I personally find them confining. If you are a serious yoga practitioner, break down and buy yourself a mat in the 40 dollar and up range, made of natural rubber, designed to be sticky and useful. Stop thinking of the mat as floor padding, because that should not be the purpose of your mat. In fact, if you have adequate flooring at home, you don’t need a mat at all. Yoga pre-dated colorful mats – believe it or not!
I have seen another fix at yoga studios which is buying a 60 dollar item, a yoga mat cover which looks like a terry cloth towel. I think if you are doing hot yoga this is a useful prop. You can wash it easily. For what you are spending, if you are doing generic yoga – putting the $60 into a better mat is a more sensible use of your money.
As with any sport, proper gear makes the experience more enjoyable. Namaste!