Downward Facing Dog, or Adho Mukha Svanasana, is one of the most commonly practiced and most iconic yoga postures around. In fact, I would be willing to bet that when most people think of ‘yoga,’ this pose naturally comes to mind.
But how often do you pause and really take the time to dig into your Downward Dog, to really allow it to nourish and nurture your body?
This pose has so many health benefits, and deserves to be so much more than a transition pose—which it so often turns into. Here are five reasons why you should mindfully practice this pose every day.
1. Opens the Backs of the Legs
Walking, running, moving around, standing – most of the things we do during the day bring tension to the backs of the legs. This is why so many of us walk around with chronically overly tight hamstrings and calf muscles.
Downward Facing Dog is an awesome posture for opening the backs of the legs because you have gravity to help you, and it is very easy to keep your spine in a beneficial position in this stretch.
Keeping the spine long is not always so easy with other back body-openers like seated forward folds. With this pose, you get that opening without compromising other areas of your body.
2. Elongates the Spine
The traction you get from planting your feet and then pushing your hands strongly into your mat is one of the best spinal elongation tools the yoga asana practice has to offer.
Using gravity as your friend, you will be reversing the usual downward pressure on the spine, helping to gently re-align the vertebra in a natural, easy way.
Downward Facing Dog offers all the benefits of an inversion on the spine, without having to fully go upside-down—which is great for anyone who has neck or shoulder injuries, or just doesn’t yet have the strength to safely hang out inverted.
3. Brings Awareness to Your Breathing
Because this pose is not a very complicated one, and thus there’s less chance of injury, you can really slow down in it and take some time to tune into your breath.
If you are someone who finds seated meditation to be painful on your body or otherwise challenging, utilizing Downward Dog as a place to tune in is an awesome option.
Your breath is what carries you, so any moment you can take time to pay extra attention to it is a moment well spent.
4. Strengthens and Opens the Chest
Downward Dog is one of the best postures for the chest muscles. Most of us who sit in a chair all day have chest muscles that are overly tight, but not necessarily all that strong.
This comes due to the ‘hunched’ position most of us hang out in all day. Downward Facing Dog will help you to re-establish some opening in your chest muscles, as well as help you cultivate much-needed strength in this area of your body.
This new opening and strength will help reduce pain and pressure in the shoulders and upper back, and it will help you develop the strength you need to practice more advanced asana like inversions and arm balances.
5. Strengthens the Arms
Finally, who can’t use a little arm-strengthening love? This pose is awesome for increasing your upper body strength in general, and your arm strength in particular—as long as you’re practicing the posture properly!
It’s easy to dump all your weight onto your shoulders and chest in this pose, which of course isn’t going to do much for your arms.
If you can bring your attention to really pressing your hands into your mat, and rolling your biceps away from your ears, you will get awesome muscular engagement throughout your whole arm, which in turn will help build strength and stamina in all of your muscles.
Do you mindfully practice this pose on a regular basis? What are some of the things you notice happening in your body when you do?