3 common mistakes in 3-legged dog

3-Legged Dog has always been one of my favorite yoga asanas. I think it's a great way to lengthen the spine and warm up the legs for practice. But if you feel like there's something missing from your 3-Legged Dog, you might be making one of a few common mistakes.

1.) Twisting the foot/torso: As we raise the leg in 3-Legged Dog, it might be tempting to twist the foot or pelvis, thereby achieving a bit more height for the leg. Although it is appropriate sometimes, leg height is not a goal of this pose and for beginners, twisting the foot or hips can create instability and loss of balance.
"The alignment instructions for Downward Dog also apply to this uneven variation: Even though you are standing on two hands and one leg, the shoulders and pelvis must remain square. This is the key to finding stability when you begin to lift one leg." -Yoga Journal
When we keep the hips square and toes facing the mat, we're engaging the deep lower back muscles and glutes. When we allow ourselves to twist open, we lose some of the spinal stretch in favor of stretching the front of the hip and side body.

2.) Rocking backward: As in Downward Facing Dog, stable hand position is imperative here. When we challenge our balance by lifting the leg, a common mistake is to compensate by shifting the weight slightly backwards, putting more weight into the grounded foot. Though this might feel more stable, it's actually bringing the entire spine out of alignment, usually collapsing and pinching the upper back. With this shift, the knuckles might curl ever-so-slightly and the hands are no longer grounded into the mat, so we totally lose the spinal extension.

3.) Rocking forward: As with rocking backward, coming forward onto the hands defeats the goal of the pose. Not only does it put unnecessary pressure on the wrists and shoulders, but rounding the upper back will create tension in the shoulder blades/scapula. Coming off balance as you move forward will also prevent the leg from reaching it's full height, thereby, again, losing that spinal extension.

3-legged dog breakdown : wholehearter
3-Legged Dog

So when we focus on our Downward Facing Dog position before floating the leg into 3-Legged Dog, our hips, shoulders and hands stay grounded and aligned. From here, when the leg rises, we experience a deep spinal stretch and opening of the hamstrings.

One of the best tips I can offer to feel the full alignment of this pose is to flip it! Take the balance challenge out of the equation and lie on your back. 

Practicing 3-Legged Dog on the floor will help you to take note of how your body is aligned. Stay here for a few breaths, really being mindful of how each muscle feels before taking it back to hands and feet. Namaste!