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Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) is a foundational yoga posture that you’ll likely practice countless times throughout your yoga lifetime.
Because this pose is equal parts strengthening and stretching, practicing Down Dog can help to build better balance and flexibility throughout your whole body. Just be sure to practice it with care and attention: If you have stiff shoulders or hamstrings, the pose may feel challenging. If you’re flexible, you want to be cautious to avoid collapsing in your lower back and shoulders.
“As you find the alignment of this pose, see if you can find alertness and relaxation in the rest of your life,” says Natasha Rizopoulos, a senior teacher and teacher trainer with Down Under School of Yoga. “Too often in our daily lives these two qualities exist in opposition. On the yoga mat, however, we can learn to inhabit them simultaneously.”
Downward-Facing Dog Pose basics
Sanskrit: Adho Mukha Svanasana (AH-doh MOO-kah shvah-NAHS-anna)
Pose type: Inversion
Target area: Lower Body
Why we love it: “I’ve had two mind-blowing revelations while practicing this pose. The first was when the teacher ever-so-gently put her thumb and forefinger between my shoulder blades and opened them. Such a small adjustment opened my shoulder blades and moved my hunched shoulders away from my ears,” says Tamara Jeffries, Yoga Journal‘s senior editor. “The second revelation was while watching a video of Laruga Glaser doing an Ashtanga series. I realized that the power of the pose came from her pelvis, hips, and torso, rather than her arms and legs: She entered the pose by lifting her hips, not pushing through the arms. Now I lift into the pose, rather than push up into it. It makes a world of difference in how I approach my Dog.”
Downward-Facing Dog Pose tones the arms and legs, opens and strengthens the shoulders in flexion, lengthens the hamstrings, stretches the calves, and prepares the body for heating.
Downward-Facing Dog: Step-by-step instructions
- Come onto your hands and knees, with your hands a tiny bit in front of your shoulders and your knees directly below your hips. Spread your palms, rooting down through all four corners of your hands, and turn your toes under.
- Exhale and lift your knees from the floor, at first keeping your knees slightly bent and your heels lifted off the floor. Lengthen your tailbone away from the back of your pelvis, lift the sitting bones toward the ceiling, and draw your inner legs from your inner ankles up through your groins.
- On an exhalation, push your top thighs back and stretch your heels toward the floor. Straighten your knees without locking them.
- Firm your outer arms and press the bases of your index fingers actively into the floor. Lift along your inner arms from the wrists to the tops of the shoulders. Firm your shoulder blades against your back, then widen them and draw them toward your tailbone. Keep your head between your upper arms.
- Stay in the pose for 10 or more breaths, then bend your knees on an exhalation and lower yourself into Child’s Pose
To stretch the backs of your legs more, lift slightly up onto the balls of your feet, pulling your heels a half-inch or so away from the floor. Draw your inner groin deep into the pelvis, lifting actively from the inner heels, then lengthen your heels back onto the floor.
Teaching Adho Mukha Svanasana
These cues will help protect your students from injury and help them have the best experience of the pose:
- Be mindful of hyperextension of any of the joints in this pose. Protect your elbows by pressing your inner upper arms away from each other until your biceps engage.
- For healthy neck placement, bring your ears in line with your upper arms to align your neck and head along the same line as your spine.
Variation: Bent-Knee Downward-Facing Dog Pose
If your hamstrings are tight, bend your knees in this pose. This can also help if your back is rounded in the position, and/or you have low back pain.