Yoga Basics: Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
In asana practice, we do Downward-Facing Dog Pose a lot. The pose looks like an upside-down V. It’s frequently used as a transition and resting pose. If you’re starting out with yoga, it may not feel like a resting pose. But, trust me, the longer you practice and work on your flexibility and strength, the easier it gets.
Downward-Facing Dog Pose Basics
Type: Forward fold, axial extension
Stretches: Calves, hamstrings, spine, shoulders, chest
Strengthens: Arms, wrists, legs, shoulders
Gaze: Navel; gaze in between your thighs, if it feels uncomfortable.
Benefits of Downward-Facing Dog Pose
Downward-Facing Dog develops strength and flexibility. The pose strengthens the upper body and stretches the back of the body. It can also relieve neck and back tension as well as neutralize the spine after backbends and forward folds.
By stretching and opening the shoulders and the chest, it can help to improve your posture. Practicing the pose can be beneficial if you tend to slouch and round your shoulders.
Downward-Facing Dog is often considered a mild form of inversion. As a result, it can increase blood flow to the head. Inversions are yoga poses in which the heart goes above the head. Salamba Sirsasana (Headstand Pose), Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm Stand Pose), Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand Pose) and Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand Pose) are common yoga inversions. Since in Downward Facing Dog Pose, your legs remain on the mat, the pose is not a full inversion. However, many frequently refer to it as a mild inversion because your heart is higher than your head.
How to Practice Downward Dog
- Begin in Bharmanasana (Tabletop Pose) on all fours. Place your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Look at your knees; you shouldn’t be able to see your feet as they should be directly behind your knees.
- Move your hands one palm’s distance forward. The distance will vary based on your body-to-leg ratio and your height, so try different options and see what works best for you.
- Spread your fingers wide and point your middle fingers forward. Press all your fingers into the mat.
- Tuck your toes under. As you exhale, engage your lower abdominals and lift your hips, forming an upside-down V.
- Stretch your spine and lower your heels, but make sure that you do not round your spine as you do so.
- Spread your shoulder blades wide and externally rotate your shoulders so that your armpits face down toward the mat. Then, draw your shoulders away from your ears as you lengthen your armpits.
- Relax your head and direct your gaze toward your navel. If this feels too much, gaze in the space between your legs. Shake your head from side to side to relieve any tension in the neck and relax your jaw.
- Hold the pose for five breaths or longer. Try to lengthen your spine with each inhalation.
Modifications and Variations for Downward-Facing Dog Pose
- If you are rounding your back, gently bend your knees and/or lift the heels higher away from the floor. Make sure there’s still a stretch in your hamstrings and calves.
- Raise your leg up to transition into Three-Legged Dog Pose. Keep your shoulders and hips level. You can stack your hips on top of each other and bend the knee of your lifted leg. That’ll stretch the side body and your hip flexors. Square your shoulders toward the front edge of the mat as you do so.
- If you are pregnant, slightly widen your stance to allow more space for your growing belly.
- Lower your forearms toward the mat into Ardha Pincha Mayurasana (Dolphin Pose). That’ll stretch your shoulders and hamstrings a bit more.
- If you do not properly engage your hands, you may experience pain in your wrists. To prevent that, you should avoid dumping your weight onto the heels of your hands. Instead, push through your fingertips, bases of your fingers, and the outer edges of your hands. Keep the middle section of your palms off the mat as if your hands were suction cups.
- Don’t worry if your heels don’t reach the mat. Lowering the heels can cause the back to round, which can cause pressure on your wrists and shoulders. It also eliminates the axial extension of your spine in the pose. Before you place your heels on the mat, ensure that your spine is in its neutral curves. Bend your knees and bring your chest toward your thighs and lengthen your spine.
- If your shoulders are quite flexible, your chest may sink toward the mat. This can cause the low back to flex upward. Instead, focus on keeping the spine long.
Contraindications and Risks
If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, wrist injuries, experience headaches, migraines, or high blood pressure, avoid Downward Dog or practice it carefully.
Karina Norton is a certified yoga instructor currently living and teaching in the south of Spain. She is passionate about anatomy and uses her background in weightlifting and dance to teach creative and safe classes. Karina primarily teaches a variety of mixed-level Vinyasa, Ashtanga, and Yin yoga classes and workshops, and particularly enjoys working with women during their prenatal and postnatal journey. She continuously learns about different aspects of yoga and blogs on her website yogabykarina.com.