Downward Facing Dog

Sanskrit: Adho Mukha Svanasana

Downward Facing Dog is a yoga pose which almost everyone has heard of. Technically, it belongs to the group of poses called inversions because your head is lower than your heart. It stretches the muscles in the legs and lengthens and strengthens your spine and shoulders. It can feel uncomfortable when first practiced, especially in the legs and until you have developed sufficient wrist strength, but there are plenty of modifications you can take to support your practice. Downward Facing Dog is one of the poses in the Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskara) but is also practiced in its own right by stepping back into the pose or by pressing up from All Fours / Tabletop.

The instructions below describe how to get in to the pose from All Fours.

How to get into the pose:

  • Begin in All Fours with your wrists under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Step your hands one palm length forward.

  • Tuck your toes and inhale to lift knees off the floor.

  • Exhale to lift and draw back your hips, straighten your arms (but do not lock out), draw your thighs back and create an inverted letter V with your body.

  • Spread your fingers out across the mat and push down through the whole of your hand. Send your energy up and away from the mat, lengthening your shoulders away from your ears. Keep your neck relaxed and long between your upper arms but don’t let it drop.

  • Your feet are about hip width apart. Activate your legs and your arms. Roll your thighs inward. Your weight should be evenly distributed between hands and feet.

  • Don’t worry if your heels do not reach the floor. Focus on lengthening through the spine and bend your knees if you need to.

  • Take deep breaths.

  • As you exhale, draw your abdominal muscles in and up (engage uddiyana bandha).

  • To release the pose exhale and come back down to the mat.

Remember to create the balance between effort and ease in your pose.

How long to stay in the pose:

  • Five to ten breaths

Gaze (Drishti)

  • Between your ankles or knees

  • Navel

Modifications you can take to make this pose more accessible:

  • Bend the knees as much as you need to if there is tightness in the hamstrings.

  • If you have wrist pain or injury, you can remain in All Fours and extend the arms forward, dropping the chest to the mat, forehead on the mat or a block.

Variations

  • Three Leg Dog - Inhale to lift on leg in line with your upper body and the hips level. Hold for up to 10 breaths then release the leg to the mat on an exhale. Repeat on the second side.

Contraindications / Cautions

  • Be cautious of staying too long in the pose if you have low blood pressure.

  • As above, take modifications if you have wrist pain or injury.