And more importantly, SHOULD they?
I get asked this question a lot, and I guess it's because people are so often pictured doing down dog with their heels down.
Like me, here:
My alignment is actually not too bad in this photo but my knees are far too straight - this is what a lot of people do to get their heels to the ground.
There are a few things to think about in the should-my-heels-touch-the-ground issue:
- Whether or not you have the range in your ankles. Some of us have tight calf muscle and back lines and this will mean we can't get our heels down. Stretching can change that. But some of us just have ankle joints that don't allow the amount of dorsiflexion (toes toward kneecaps) that you need. No amount of stretching will change that. If your bones won't do it, your bones won't do it. We have a new little pose skeleton, Skelina, and she's great because she operates like a really human: a bit wonky. Only her right ankle has the range to get down - and only if she hyperextends the knee like I am doing in the pic above. She has a neutral left knee and her left heel isn't thought the ground. She doesn't have any muscles getting in the way!
- We like to teach Down Dog as a pose of axial extension where the curves of your spine lengthen and flatten slightly but don't change shape. For many people, in order to get their heels down, they need to round out their lower backs. Not really the goal, certainly as we teach this pose.
- We emphasise stabiity in all poses - and you are most stable when you are distributing force through your bones rather than relying on your muscles to do all the work. If you've hyperextended your knees or changed the curve of your low bak in Down Dog, I could stroll up to you and shove you over very easily. BUT, if you are all nicely aligned, a firm shove won't really move you. Even with your heels up. If you are interested, Karen and I will make a video of this when she gets back from Cambodia. For now, just look how wonky our mascot Skelina looks trying to get her heels down:
Notice how there's not a 'clean' line in sight? Uneven space in all her joints, and those shoulders just look ouch.
Moral of the story: if you intend to use Down Dog to develop stability and lengthen you out of your habitual posture, you really don't need to get your heels down. That's just a fancy bonus, if it happens!