Downward-Facing Dog Pose

One of yoga's most widely recognized poses, Adho Mukha Svanasana strengthens the core and improves circulation, while providing a delicious, full-body stretch.

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Perhaps the most widely recognized yoga posture, Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) is equal parts strengthening and stretching. Although it’s a common pose, it’s not an easy one.

“For some people, this pose is about stretching and opening; for others, it’s learning to stabilize your joints with muscular effort,” says Annie Carpenter, founder of SmartFLOW Yoga. In this way, practicing Down Dog can help you build full-body strength and flexibility. 

It can take time, practice, and continual readjustments, and not just in your body. “I find Downward-Facing Dog to be the perfect microcosm of yoga practice,” says Natasha Rizopoulos, a senior teacher and teacher trainer with Down Under School of Yoga. “It requires both strength and flexibility; it teaches you to appreciate alignment; and it offers philosophical lessons, such as the cultivation of stability and spaciousness, that will carry over into the rest of your life.”

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Adho Mukha Svanasana (AH-doh  MOO-kah  shvah-NAHS-ah-nah)

adho = downward

mukha = face

svana = dog

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Downward-Facing Dog Pose Basics

Pose type: Inversion

Targets: Lower Body

Benefits: Down Dog Pose strengthens your wrists, arms, and shoulders; it stretches your wrists, hamstrings, and back. Because the posture lengthens your spine, it counteracts the effects of prolonged sitting and improves posture.

Cautions & Contraindications

Avoid this pose if you suffer from an injury to your wrists, shoulders, or ankles, or if you have high blood pressure.


Learn more about finding alignment and balancing effort with ease in this pose in Downward-Facing Dog: The Complete Guide for Students and Teachers. Access expert insights from top teachers—including anatomy know-how, variations, and more—when you become a member. It’s a resource you’ll return to again and again.

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How to do Downward-Facing Dog Pose

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  1. Come onto your hands and knees and bring your hands slightly in front of your shoulders. Spread your fingers wide, press down through your knuckles, and tuck your toes under.
  2. Exhale as you lift your knees off the mat and reach your sit bones toward the ceiling. Keep your knees slightly bent as you lengthen your back.
  3. Press the back of your thighs toward the wall behind you and stretch your heels toward the mat. Straighten your knees without locking them.
  4. Press the base of your index fingers into the mat. Lift along your inner arms from your wrists to your shoulders. Firm your shoulder blades against your back, then widen them and draw them toward your tailbone. Relax your neck and keep your head between your upper arms.
  5. Stay here for 10 or more breaths. As you exhale, bend your knees and lower yourself into Child’s Pose
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Beginner’s Tips

  • Keep your knees bent as much as you need to experience (relative) comfort in your hamstrings and low back.
  • Let your heels feel heavy as you lower them toward the mat. Although it’s perfectly okay (and common!) for your heels to remain lifted off the mat.
  • Reach your sit bones toward the wall behind you where it meets the ceiling.
  • If you have tight shoulders, place your hands slightly wider than your shoulders and angle them slightly outward.
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Common Misalignments

  • If you have stiff shoulders or hamstrings, Down Dog may feel exceptionally challenging. Tight shoulders can cause you to round your back or shift your body too far forward in the pose. Lift your hips and press your chest toward your thighs to help your arms and back form a long straight line.
  • If you’re flexible or hypermobile, you’ll want to bring awareness to your shoulders to avoid collapsing. Push the mat away from you and draw your shoulders blades away from your ears. Allow some space between your shoulder blades.
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Teaching Down Dog

  • Suggest students bring their ears in line with their upper arms. This ensures that the neck and head are aligned with the spine.
  • Remind students to notice if they’re hyperextending their elbows. You can cue them to keep a microbend in their elbows or suggest they press their inner upper arms away from one other until they can feel the biceps engage.
  • Rizopoulos likes to remind students of the parallels between the practice this pose and the practice of being human. “As you find the alignment of this pose, see if you can find alertness and relaxation in the rest of your life. Too often in our daily lives these two qualities exist in opposition. On the yoga mat, however, we can learn to inhabit them simultaneously.”
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Downward-Facing Dog Variations

There are many ways to approximate the shape and experience the benefits of Downward-Facing Dog. Adjust the pose according to the flexibility of your body, using props or the wall for support.

Photo: Andrew Clark

Bent-Knee Down Dog Pose

If your hamstrings feel tight or you experience low back pain, bend your knees. This can also help if your back starts to round.

Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

Down Dog Against a Wall

Bring your hands to the wall, shoulder-distance apart, and walk your feet back so your hips bend at 90 degrees. Your hands can be straight across from your hips or, if it’s comfortable, they can come higher on the wall. Look straight down at the floor.

Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

Down Dog With Heels Against a Wall

If you have tight hamstrings, bring your heels against a wall and keep a slight bend in your knees. Rest your heels against the wall. If you’re in a class, you can keep a rolled blanket at the back of the mat and use that as support for your heels.

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Why We Love This Pose

“I’ve had two mind-blowing revelations while practicing this pose. The first was when a 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.”

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Preparatory and Counter Poses

Warm up for Adho Muka Svanasana with stretches for the hamstring and spine. You can follow Down Dog with almost any pose, although if you find yourself exhausted afterward, let yourself sink into Child’s Pose.

Preparatory Poses

Cat Pose

Cow Pose

Puppy Pose

Plank Pose

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

Counter Poses

Child’s Pose (Balasana)

Learn more about finding alignment and balancing effort with ease in this pose in Downward-Facing Dog: The Complete Guide for Students and Teachers. Access expert insights from top teachers—including anatomy know-how, variations, and more—when you become a member. It’s a resource you’ll return to again and again.

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Adho Mukha Svanasana is part arm balance, part inversion, and part restorative pose that stretches and strengthens various parts of the body, explains Ray Long, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and yoga instructor.

In the drawings below, pink muscles are stretching and blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of the stretch and the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.


Downward-Facing Dog Pose: Adho Mukha Svanasana
(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

Press the mounds at the base of your index fingers into the mat to engage your forearms. The internal rotation this creates in the forearms, combined with the external rotation in your shoulders, creates a “wringing” effect in your arms and increases stability. When you straighten your elbows, you contract the triceps.

When you activate the quadriceps, this stretches and relaxes the hamstrings. As you draw the tops of your feet toward the fronts of your shins, you activate the tibialis anterior muscles, which in turn relaxes and lengthens the gastrocnemius/soleus complex along your calves and allows your heels to drop toward the mat.

Downward-Facing Dog Pose: Adho Mukha Svanasana
(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

As you lengthen through the back to extend the lumbar spine, you contract the quadratus lumborum and erector spinae muscles along the spine as well as the psoas muscle. These actions flex your hips which creates the movement of the chest toward the thighs. These muscles also tilt the pelvis forward into anteversion. The tile of the pelvis and the flexion at your hips draws the origin point of the hamstrings, the ischial tuberosities (aka sit bones), upward. This stretches the hamstrings. To further stretch the hamstrings, engage the quadriceps to produce reciprocal inhibition, further relaxing them.

Excerpted with permission from The Key Poses of Yoga and Anatomy for Vinyasa Flow and Standing Poses by Ray Long.

Downward-Facing Dog Pose in Practice

Down Dog is a pose you will return to again and again in your practice, as it is often a pose that is practiced as a transition between standing poses and floor poses, such as in Sun Salutations and other yoga flows.

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About Our Contributors

Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit

Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.