Richard Rosen’s Asana Breakdown No.1: Anatomical Terms & Adho Mukha Svanasana/Downward Dog ← Back to Blog

 

ANATOMICAL TERMS

 

COLLAR BONES: the collarbones or clavicles (from Latin clavicula, “key”) are found across the upper chest. They attach between the sternum and small projections from the shoulder blades on the top of the shoulders. TO LOCATE: touch your fingertips to the top of your sternum, then slowly work your way out to either side along the curvy bones to the top of the shoulders.

 

CROOK OF THE NECK: the crook of the neck is the crease where the underside of the chin joins the front of the throat. Just underneath the crook is the U-shaped hyoid bone (from Greek hyoeides, “shaped like the letter U”), which is the root of the tongue (so it’s also called the “tongue bone”). TO LOCATE: touch a fingertip to either side of your Adam’s apple (larynx) and gently press the crease up and into the head.

 

CROWN: the top of the head (from Greek korone, “anything curved”).

 

DIAPHRAGM: our primary breathing muscle, attaching around the bottom rim of the rib case. It separates the chest above from the abdomen below (from Greek dia-, “through” + phragm, “fence”).

 

GLABELLA: the space between the eyebrows (from Latin glaber, “smooth, bald”).

 

GROINS: the groins (from Old English grynde, “abyss”) are the diagonal creases between the pelvis and the top thighs. TO LOCATE: touch the hip points (see below) and slowly trace the creases down and in toward the pubic bone (see below).

 

HEAD OF THE THIGH BONE (femur, from Latin, “thigh”): the ball-shaped head of the thigh bone sits in the cup-shaped hip socket to form the hip joint. TO LOCATE: lie on your back and touch a fingertip to either side of the pubic bone (see below). Then bend one knee and bring the thigh to the belly. Feel how the femur head swivels in the hip socket.

 

HIP POINTS: the hip points are the two little bony knobs on the front of your pelvis, a few inches to either side of and slightly below your navel. TO LOCATE: bring your hands to your hips, your fingers will touch either on or very close to the hip points.

 

HUMERUS: the upper arm bone between the shoulder and elbow (from Latin umerus, “shoulder”).

 

JUGULAR NOTCH: the little hollow just above the top of the sternum (from Latin jugularis, “pertaining to the throat or neck”). TO LOCATE: find the top of your sternum (see below), the little indentation just above is the JN.

 

OCCIPITAL PROTUBERANCE: the OP is located at the back of the head just above the back of the neck (nape) (from Latin ob- + caput, “head”). It’s also called the inion (from Greek

inion, “nape”). TO LOCATE: find the small bump on the back of the head just above the nape.

PALATE: the roof of the mouth. It has two sections, hard near the front and soft toward the back (from Latin palatum, “roof of the mouth”).

 

PERINEUM: the perineum is the base of your pelvis, bounded by the pubic bone in front and the tail bone behind, and the inner groins to either side (from peri, “near” + inan, “to empty by evacuation”).

 

PUBIS or PUBIC BONE: the pubis is the bony base of the front pelvis (from Latin os pubis, “bone of the pubes”).

 

SACRUM: the sacrum is a triangle-shaped bone (pointing downward in the upright position) that serves as the back of your pelvis and the base of your spine (from Latin os sacrum, “holy bone”).

 

SHOULDER BLADES: the shoulder blades or scapulas (from Latin, “shoulder”) are a pair of triangle-shaped bones on the back of your torso. The ball-shaped upper arms bones attach to the cup-shaped shoulder blade sockets to form the shoulder joints.

 

SIT BONES: the sit bones are a pair of rocker-shaped bones on the bottom of your pelvis. TO LOCATE: sit on an unpadded chair seat, away from the back, and rock slowly to and fro. The sit bones work exactly like the rockers on a rocking chair.

 

STERNUM: the sternum or breastbone is the long flat bone at the center of your chest (from Greek sternon, “chest”). It provides bony protection for the heart and an anchor for the ribs and collar bones. The top of the sternum is called the manubrium (from Latin manus, “handle”), the bottom the xiphoid (from Greek xiphos, “sword”).

 

TAILBONE: the tailbone or coccyx is located at the bottom tip of the sacrum (from Greek kokkux, “cuckoo,” because it’s said to resemble a cuckoo’s tail).

 

TRAGUS: the little bump that projects out just in front of your ear canal (from Greek tragos, “billy goat”).

 

ADHO MUKHA SVANASANA

(ah-doh moo-kah shwah-NAHS-anna)

adho mukha = face downward (adho = downward; mukha = face)

svana = dog (PRONUNCIATION NOTE: usually in Sanskrit, when a “v” follows a consonant it’s pronounced like a “w.” The best known example of this is the word “swami.” Its Sanskrit spelling is “svami,” but when the English in India heard this pronounced as “swami,” they naturally replaced the “v” with a “w” when they spelled it out. This is called anglicization, changing a foreign word to make it easier for English speakers to spell and/or read).

 

Downward Facing Dog Pose

 

1. Come down on the floor on “all fours,” knees set directly below your hips, hands slightly forward of your shoulders. Spread your palms, keeping the centers of the palms (the tala hridaya, “heart of the palm”) and the roots of the thumbs soft. Arrange the index fingers parallel to each other or, if you’re tighter in the shoulders, angle them slightly away from each other.

 

2. Turn your toes under, inhale and lift your knees away from the floor. At first keep them slightly bent. From the inner ankles, imagine a line of energy flowing up along each of the inner legs to the inner groins (where the inner thighs join the perineum or base of the pelvis). Broaden your sacrum, narrow your hip points, and imagine your tail bone (coccyx) lengthening away from the back of your pelvis. As best you can, judge the tail bone’s distance from the floor.

 

3. With an inhale, as you resist the calves against the shins (to help avoid locking the knees), push your top thighs back and stretch your heels down toward or onto the floor. As you straighten the knees, try not to lift the tailbone farther away from the floor, have it resist the straightening knees. Imagine the arms are rooted in the top thighs. When you push them back to straighten the knees, reach out through the arms oppositely and stretch the torso (and spine) between the limbs.

 

4. Broaden the shoulder blades (scapulas) across the back, but at the same time firm the outer arms inward. This will bring the bases of the index fingers firmly to the floor. From these two points, draw a line of imaginary energy up along each of your inner arms (just as you’re doing with the inner legs) and feed it into the inner borders of the scapulas, down along your back torso and out through the long tail bone. Position your head between your arms, don’t let it hang.

 

5. Adho Mukha Svanasana is one of the poses in a well-known Sun Salutation sequence. It’s also an excellent yoga asana all on its own. Stay in this pose anywhere from 1 to 5 minutes. Then bend your knees to the floor with an exhale and rest in Balasana.

 

Benefits:

Can calm the brain and help relieve stress

Conversely, can energize a tired body-mind

Stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves

Strengthens the arms and legs

 

Contraindications:

If you have high blood pressure or a headache, support your head on a bolster or block.

 

Beginner’s Tip:

If you find it difficult to release and broaden your shoulders, raise your hands off the floor on a pair of blocks or even the seat of a metal folding chair.