How to Step Forward from Down Dog to Low Lunge
Most yoga classes these days are run on a continual basis so it can often be the case that your first class isn’t aimed at complete beginners. When it comes to the Sun Salutes you won’t be alone in struggling to step your foot forwards between your hands. Its something that doesn’t often get taught or broken down in a class. Admitedlly I don’t often stop and teach this movement as it would interrupt the flow of the class. However I do realise that I am doing a disservice to my students by not teaching it, so every now and again I will explain the process. Often the effect of this will be a lightbulb moment for some students but of course its rarely a quick process when it come to what our bodies are capable of doing. What you might not realise though is that a lot of the things we do every week in my classes are moving you towards being able to step through with greater ease.
Does it matter?
Our practice isn’t just about throwing shapes with our body. Its about learning how to move our body with precision and awareness, connecting breath to movement. When we start to refine this the whole practice becomes a moving meditation from start to finish. This is where the magic happens and where the practice moves from being a physical exercise to something more transformative and powerful.
So where does the stepping forward come into this? Being able to step the foot forwards gracefully and with control is one way of focussing the mind and creating a practice that whilst being strong still has a gentle quiet element. Admittedly this won’t happen overnight.
So here are some poses to work on that might help you to achieve a smooth step through. This is just my pick of them and there are lots of other poses that would help of course.
Core and Hip Flexor strengthening
How Prop yourself up onto your elbows and bend your knees in towards your chest. The lower back will be supported by the floor here, keep firming in through the lower belly. As you exhale straighten the right leg out parallel to the floor and squeeze the left knee towards the left shoulder. Press the shoulder towards the knee at the same time. Inhale to pull the right knee back in and then change sides. Repeat 10 times on each side.
Why this works? The hip flexors and abdominals need to be strong in able for the knee to be lifted in towards the chest as you step forwards. This pose will start to strengthen those areas (you will feel it working!).
Half Happy Baby Pose
How Bend one knee in towards the chest. Reach the other leg out along the floor. Take the bent knee wider, towards the armpit. Keep the knee bent but lift the shinbone up so that its vertical, the sole of the foot pointing towards the ceiling. See if you can hold around the outer edge of the foot and gently draw downwards with the hand. If you can’t reach the foot hold the outer shin. Keep the shoulders relaxing down towards the floor and breathe. Stay for about 10 breaths then do the other side.
Why this works? If you turned this pose the other way up it would look like a long lunge which is exactly where you are heading with the step through. This pose will help you get the release in the hips and hamstrings to be ready for your lunge.
Boat Pose (knees bent)
How Bend your knees, press down through the sitting bones to lift up through the lower back. Hold around the back of your thighs and then start to half straighten the legs. Reach the arms forwards and draw the shoulderblades towards each other on the back to help you keep lifting up through the lower back. Hold for 5 breaths then repeat a futher 2 times.
Why this works? This is another hip flexor and abs strengthener…you get the idea!
Cat Pose/knee to nose
How This pose is key to helping you achieve a step through. Focus on keeping the arms straight, pulling in the lower belly and front ribs (imagine trying to draw the lower part of your rib cage and the top of your hip bones towards each other) and rounding through the upper back.
Why this works? This is the same type of action you need to do when coming from a Down Dog. Practicing this from all fours is much more accessible and will give you a point of reference for how the body should feel in the step through.
Plank Pose/knee to chest
How This is the second key pose. Remember the shape in your cat pose – that’s exactly what you need to do here too. You are making space for the leg to come forwards by rounding the upper back and pressing the ground away from you. Activate the abdominals and hip flexors by pulling in through the lower belly and ribs. Repeat this as many times as you can.
Why this works? This will really start to build the strength that you need for the step through. It adds to the building blocks of body awareness so that your body starts to recognize where you want it to go.
How Start from a forward bend and step back into the lunge from there. See if you can sneak your back foot a little bit further away than it wants to go (don’t overdo it) so you just add a little extra stretch. Lift the back thighbone away from the floor and draw your chest forwards and then plant the back knee down. Stay and breathe for up to 10 breaths and then step the foot forwards back into your forward bend. Repeat on the other side.
Why this works? If this is where you are heading it’s a good idea to practice the lunge a few times first. This also provides a nice stretch on those hip flexors, its good to keep the body balanced.
The Step Through
If you feel like you are miles away from a step through keep working through the previous poses until you feel like you are nearly there.
Once you are ready take downward face dog and start to move towards your plank knee to chest pose focussing on making as much space as possible in the upper body to draw the knee close into the chest. Then see if you can kick the lower leg forwards enough to step the foot lightly (or not!) in between the hands. It will feel clunky at first but keep practicing and it will start to get easier until you no longer have to think about it. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get it straight away, just keep practicing and you will get there eventually!