Yoga Tip Tuesdays: Rolling your toes over in the transition to upward-facing dog

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This post is in response to a reader comment - yay! Anonymous said: "I'd love a tip on how to transition your feet from plank to upward dog then downward dog. I always have difficulty rolling my feet from plank to upward, and when I "fudge" it I worry I'm doing it wrong."

This is a great question! And don't worry, Anonymous, you aren't alone: this is a really difficult move and it took me (and many other yogis I know!) years of practice to make this a smooth transition.  Also, don't stress if you don't get it right away. As long as you aren't injuring yourself the way you are doing it, just view it as a step in the process, and keep working at it. As with everything, eventually, with practice, it will come!

First: Warm up your feet! Feet are delicate and deserve our respect, so it's a good idea to first establish that your feet have the flexibility to make this transition without injury. For some foot-stretching ideas, check out this old post on Yoga for Feet.

Next, do a practice-run.  Once your feet are warmed up, you can work on transitioning your toes from a flexed to an extended (pointed) position to make sure your feet are strong and flexible enough to do this comfortably. To isolate the feet from the rest of the transition, do this from plank pose.

1. Start in plank pose, with your toes tucked under and your heels strongly pressing back.

2. In plank pose, shift your weight a tiny bit forward, lift from the core, and come up onto your tip-toes. Don't try to roll your feet over yet - just see how high you can come onto tip-toes, hold for a breath, and then come down. Do this a few times.

3. Finally, come up onto the very tips of your toes and then gently shift your pelvis forward until you roll over onto the tops of your feet. You may want to practice this with your hands forward of your usual alignment to maintain your stability. Practice this until it feels smooth and comfortable.

If your toes don't feel comfortable rolling over, don't force it. Feet are delicate, so be careful!

Next it gets a little more challenging, because in between plank and upward-facing dog, we have four-legged staff pose, chaturanga dandasana, a pose that requires a great deal of strength.  For this exercise, we're going to use a yoga block (or something equivalent - a small ball or box) that you can squeeze between your thighs.  This isn't strictly necessary but it helps by keeping the legs engaged and therefore encouraging you to move from the core and the pelvis.

Before you start, read this post on the pelvic alignment in the transition from plank to upward-facing dog. Got that? We don't want to be injuring our SI joint while we're doing this, and finding that 'lift' from the core and the pelvis is a key part to making this transition.  The key thing to remember here is that the origin of the movement is from the pelvis.  Think of your pelvis as the engine that is driving the movement - try to move just the pelvis, and the rest of your body will follow.  

1. Place your yoga block between your thighs and come into plank pose. Set your mental mantra to moving from the pelvis, and as you inhale, lift (from the core!) up onto your tiptoes.

2. Begin to exhale and lower yourself as far down into chaturanga as you can hold for a few seconds - it doesn't have to be all the way! Keep lifting as high as you can onto the tips of your toes and look forward. Keep squeezing your block! This puts you in the perfect preparatory position to move yourself forward into upward-facing dog.

3. As your exhalation reaches empty, look forward, lift strongly from the core and move your pelvis forward while pressing into your hands to straighten your arms. Open up your chest and keep your spine long. With luck - and practice! - your toes will slide over at the last second as you go forward.

And back to downward-facing dog...   The final step is to take this from upward-facing dog back to downward facing dog.  Again, focus on the pelvis as the origin of the movement.

1. From upward-facing dog, begin to exhale. Press into your arms and as you near the end of your exhalation, strongly suck your belly button up and lift your pelvis UP and back.  As you come up to a plank-like position, you will come towards a full extension of your feet, which is pretty uncomfortable, so try to make this a smooth, continuous movement.

2. Before you think about going all the way back, try to get as high as you can onto the tops of your feet as you lift your hips up.  When you can go no higher, send your hips back and your toes will have nowhere to go but up and over!  If they won't quite go together, roll them over one at a time but practice alternating which foot goes first.

Here is a short video showing how it all comes together. I've tried to really emphasise the role the pelvis plays in driving the movement - I hope it helps!

A few extra tips:

- Keep your core strongly engaged by lifting the belly button towards the spine.

- Synchronise your hardest movements with the end of your exhalation, and move when your breath is empty. This automatically engages your abdominal and pelvic lift, which will compliment these movements.

- Try tiny variations in the position of your hands. While the general guideline is to line your hands up directly under your shoulders, a centimetre forward or back can really make the difference in finding the 'sweet spot' that will serve you in both Chaturanga and Upward-facing dog.

- Also, check out this video where Kino talks about using the bandhas (that pelvic and abdominal lift) to move through this transition


If you've read this far, I'd love your feedback! Was this helpful? What are you struggling with when it comes to this transition? What advice or practice helped you?