Should Your Heels Be on the Floor in Downward Dog?

Class in Downward Facing Dog
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In downward facing dog, do you have trouble getting your heels completely to the floor? You may wonder whether that is a goal to work towards and what benefits it might bring.

Origin of Heels on the Floor in the Downward Facing Dog Pose

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

Heel Position for Downward Facing Dog

It's fair to say that thinking on this pose has evolved with the years. If you are up on the balls of your feet, it shifts the trajectory of the pose forward instead of back. You need to take your weight back into your heels, although they don't have to touch the floor. Gently push or pull your hips back so you are moving in the direction of your heels being closer to the floor.

Some people with very open hamstrings and calves may be able to comfortably 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? The answer to that is likely to be "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.

The Goal of the Downward Facing Dog Pose

One of the reasons you 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 anytime soon either.

Don't Fixate on One Ideal Version of a Pose

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 you've become accustomed to doing in many areas of your life. That goes double for grasping after achievement of more advanced or perfect yoga poses. It kind of defeats the purpose.