A question I got recently was about the transition from down dog to lunge. It seems to be a common query, and I’ve taught classes on this topic. The problem seems to be that some people struggling to bring the foot forward enough to come into a lunge. So, I’m going to discuss how to transition from downward dog into a lunge, plus modifications if the foot doesn’t come through.
Modifications using the hands or blocks are great for working with where you are now in your practice. But, also in this post, I’ll also address 3 ways to work on the strength to bring that back foot through. Whether the weakness is in the upper body, core or hips.
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Down dog to lunge tutorial
Firstly, let’s talk about the transition. What is a transition? Put simply, its the movement between the poses. In my workshops I use the analogy of trains and stations. The stations are the poses, the journey between the stations are the transitions. When thinking about down dog to lunge, the transition typically involves lifting one leg into 3-legged dog. Then sweeping that lifted leg through and placing the foot between the hands.
From this runner’s lunge, there are many poses available. From high lunge, low lunge to lizard pose. However, the task of bringing that lifted foot through to the front of the mat isn’t as easy as it first appears!
Can’t step the foot through from down dog?
Firstly, for many the foot simply stops short, landing under the navel rather than to the hands. This is problematic as then the feet are short, the lunge is short and the front knee starts shooting too far forward.
This can further be a problem as you come into a standing lunge as the pose is too short. The stance is squished and can cause you to be unbalanced and uncomfortable. Rather than adjust when standing, instead, step the foot through. Drop the back knee and use the hands to draw the front foot further forward. As shown below.
Secondly, this may not be a strength or flexibility issue. It could simply be biomechanics. As in you may just have long legs and short arms. The length of your limbs will affect how easily that back leg comes forward. Not sure if that’s you? Try the transition using yoga blocks under the hands!
This variation of the down dog to lunge transition is so peaceful. Using yoga blocks is not cheating, or easy. It’s honestly a better way to connect to your body and your practice.
Strength exercises to help the transition
This transition is about strength in the upper body, core, and hip flexors. To that end, I’m including three ways to build up strength to power through the transition. The first is working on the flow from downward dog to plank.
The important thing is to work on a real plank with abdominal engagement. The plank below is what I see a lot of. If your belly is dropping to the floor, then there is no space to bring that back leg through. Push the floor away, pull the navel to the ceiling.
Another often misunderstood muscle group are the hip flexors. Which does the job in the transition of drawing the thigh to the belly. For this exercise, I like the seated leg lift. This is the same strength work that will help straighten the legs in boat pose. It’s a two for one!
Sitting in dandasana, lift one leg at a time away from the floor. Keeping the abs engaged and avoid arching the back. One good way to test your hip and core engagement is with these lying knee sucks. Lay on your back with the knees bent. Drawn on knee to the chest. Hug it in, now engage the core and let go with the hands. Does the knee “pop” up? Or can you keep it there with your muscle activation?
Progress this by extending the opposite leg, then drawing the knee to chest but lifting the foot. This brings me to the final challenge for strength in what I call plank suck ups. From 3-legged dog draw the knee to chest and suck the thigh up to the chest. Don’t sink! See how much space you can get between the shin and floor, while maintaining a plank.
Does the foot drop? How long can you hold it up? How close can you get the thigh/knee to chest? Stay for as long as you can with good form, then return to down dog and repeat with the other side.
In conclusion, my hope is that you realize the way we get in and out of the poses matters and that yoga is not all about flexibility! You need strength, core, and balance. Plus you need a strong sense of self to know when to work on strength, and when to add blocks and find peace in the WHOLE of your practice.
- Can you sweep the foot through easily to lunge?
- How strong is your core?
- Are you willing to use props if neccessary?