Downward facing dog is much more than a restorative posture. Known as Adho Mukha Svanasana in Sanskrit, it is one of the most widely practiced yoga poses. It works on the entire body, stretching the muscles, and pepping up the flexibility. Even better, it is a simple pose that packs in the benefits of all the inversions.
But do you know that it is pretty complicated than it actually looks? You have to get your shoulders right above your wrist. And, then the hips should go high. The heels should come on the floor. It can be a huge frustration for the beginners, especially when they find that their heels are off the floor…
That’s when I decided to put together this guide. It gives you various choices and options to make the most out of this posture.
How To Do the Downward Facing Dog?
If you are doing the downward dog for the first time or you experience some kind of stiffness, take it easy. Remember, practice makes you perfect. If you have some medical conditions, check with your doctors before and take care of your body.
You are responsible for taking care of your body
There are a couple of ways you can get into Downward Facing Dog pose. You can move into this posture from
- Uttanasana – Standing Forward Fold
- Table top position
- Cobra/Upward Facing Dog Pose – Bhujangasana/Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
In this guide, I will be guiding you into this posture from the classic Table Top position. Let’s get started…
- Come on all fours with your palms and knees resting on the floor.
- Spread your fingers slightly. Keep your palms shoulder-distance apart. Stack your shoulders over your wrists.
- Keep your feet hip-distance apart and tuck your toes.
- Inhale, press your palms into the floor and straighten your arms.
- On an exhalation, lift your knees from the floor.
- Push your hips up towards the ceiling, lengthening your tailbone for a straight spine.
- Lower your chest closer to your thighs while head rests between the elbows.
- Push your heels closer to the floor until you feel a stretch in the back of your legs. Keep your legs straight.
- Let the head and neck hang freely, but aligned with the spine.
- Engage your core, glutes, and thigh muscles.
- In the final posture, your body should look like an inverted V.
- Breathing deeply, hold the posture. Start with five breaths and move on to hold for about 5 minutes.
- To exit, exhale and gently lower the knees on the floor and come back to starting position.
Our general advice applies to the downward dog too: Do not rush; there is no competition going on. Take your time, use your pace and do not compare yourself with others.
The Check Of Correct Posture
In the final posture of Downward Facing Dog, your heels should be flat on the floor. But, this might not work for all. There is a quick way to check if you are getting this posture right.
Once you settle into your final posture, take a breath in, and move forward to come into Plank. Do not make any adjustments to your hands or legs. If you are able to get your shoulders right over your wrists in Plank without adjustments, you are right.
Warm up to get Downward Facing Dog Pose right by spending a few moments in the Cat-Cow Posture.
- Come on all your fours, stacking your knees under your hips and wrists under shoulders.
- Inhale and scoop your back and tilt your neck backward to gaze up.
- Exhale and round your back. Pull the abdominal muscles inward, and tuck your chin to the chest. Gaze down.
- Repeat 10 more times.
- Shoulder Width: Your hands and arms should be shoulder width apart and remember you are not Arnold Schwarzenegger, so your shoulder width is smaller than you think.
- Bent knees: Keep your knees slightly bent, if your heels are away from the floor. You can try this variation when your hamstrings and calves are tight. Bending the knees can gift you the benefits without compromising the alignment.
- Wider feet: Separate your feet as wide as your hips and then try to bring it closer to the floor.
- Use props: If you feel that your ankles are stiff, practice this posture by resting the heels on a wall. You may also use two blocks or a rolled towel under your heels for extra support. It will help to relax the quadriceps and prevent the spine from rounding.
- Elbow Downward Facing Dog: This is my go-to version when I feel my shoulders are stiff. You can use it if you have bad wrists. Place your elbows, one at a time, on the floor. You will still get the benefits. If you feel your heels are still far away from the floor, use the props mentioned above.
Issues & Solutions
- Do not tense your shoulders by scrunching them closer to your ears. Instead, roll your shoulders back and away from your ears, creating space for your neck.
- Keep your arms active. Unstable hands could put unwanted pressure on the shoulders, neck, and back. So, press your fingertips and the knuckles along with the entire palm actively into the floor.
- Keep your spine long. Do not round your spine just because your heels are off the floor. Use props or keep your feet slightly apart from each other. You could walk a step or two forward, pushing your hips up, to lengthen your spine.
- Keep your legs active. Roll your thighs inward and straighten your legs, pushing your heels firmly into the floor. Engage the thigh and glutes muscles. Suck the navel into the spine for active, strong legs.
Downward Facing Dog Variations
These variations are for the advanced practitioners. You could practice this if you want to play around this posture.
Three-legged Downward Facing Dog
It improves your sense of balance and enhances concentration while strengthening your core.
- From Downward Facing Dog, inhale and lift your right leg up into the ceiling. Keep your hips squared.
- Hold for five breaths.
- If you are comfortable, hold your left ankle with your left hand.
- Exhale and come back to Downward Facing Dog pose.
- Repeat on the other side.
Three-legged Downward Facing Dog With Hip Opener
This variation brings in the benefits of the previous posture. Also, it opens up your hips and chest.
- From Downward Facing Dog, inhale and lift your right leg up into the ceiling.
- Bend your right knee and bring your right heel close to your left buttocks.
- Open your shoulders and chest to your right and gaze up.
- Hold for five deep breaths.
- If you are comfortable here, hold your right foot with your right hand. Hold the posture for five more breaths.
- Exhale and come back to Downward Facing Dog Pose.
- Repeat on the other side.
Downward Facing Dog Twist
It is a great way to promote detoxification while strengthening your legs and arms.
- From Downward Facing Dog pose, hold your left ankle with your right hand.
- Twist your body to your left and gaze up.
- Engage your core and twist a little deeper.
- Hold the posture for five breaths.
- On an exhalation, release the posture,
- Repeat on the other side.
Downward Facing Dog Pose to Half Wheel Pose
Flip your dog to come into the Half Wheel Pose. You may not be able to do it completely in the first attempt, but it is worth trying.
- From Downward Facing Dog, join your feet together.
- Shift your body weight to your left hand completely.
- Roll over to the outer edge of your left foot and stack the right over the left.
- Bend your right knee and place your right foot outside the left. Let the left leg remain extended. Meanwhile, your right hand will automatically come off the floor.
- Hold it here by stretching the right hand over your head.
- If possible, place your right palm down and push yourself up to come into Half Wheel Pose.
- Hold the posture, breathing deeply, for five breaths.
- Inhale and place your right palm on the floor and bring the right leg back to come into Downward Facing Dog Pose.
- Repeat with the other side.
Tips: If you are unable to come back to Downward Facing Dog pose, gently lower your hip to the floor. Extend your legs out. Roll onto your abdomen and lift into the starting posture.
Benefits of Adho Mukha Svanasana Pose
Here are some reasons that would tempt you to try this posture!
- Improves blood and lymph circulation
- Eases stress and depression
- Calms the brain
- Stretches and strengthens the entire body
- Energizes the body
- Eases menopausal and premenstrual discomforts
- Could prevent osteoporosis
- Eases digestive issues
- Could correct postural issues
- Strengthens the bones
- Promotes detoxification
- Strengthens and tones legs, arms, back, and abdomen
- Therapeutic for back pain, headache, fatigue, and insomnia
- Beneficial for sciatica, migraine, sinusitis, and asthma
There are certain restrictions for doing this energizing posture. Refrain from practicing Downward Facing Dog if you have
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- High blood pressure
If you are pregnant, practice the pose by placing your palms on a wall or a dining table. Refrain from practicing this posture if you are in the third trimester of your pregnancy.
It looks simple, but it might be hard for some as we tend to have reduced mobility in our modern life. Nonetheless, it is a great pose and fixes many mobility issues. Keep practicing to make Downward Facing Dog Pose your go-to pose.
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