Ahh, Downward Facing Dog. Perhaps the most recognizable yoga pose. Yet, somehow, at least for me, it can still present challenges even 8 years into my yoga practice.
Downward Dog, or Adho Mukha Svanasana, is a pose used throughout many styles of yoga as a starting point, a resting spot between other poses, a bridge through a vinyasa sequence, and a place of refuge.
Getting Into the Pose
There are many different ways to enter this pose depending on where you are in a yoga sequence or what style of class you’re taking.
To simply enter this pose, start on your hands and knees, with your hands slightly in front of your shoulders and your knees directly below your hips. From here, spread your fingers wide, trying to actively push into each finger, and even the webbing between each finger, firmly into the floor.
Now, curling your toes under, push your hips high in the air and straighten your arms and legs, coming into an inverted V shape. The goal is to have a flat back with your head between your arms, straight legs, and heels touching the floor.
Stay here for 30 seconds to 3 minutes.
There are a lot of subtle adjustments that need to happen in this pose to optimize it’s benefits.
- Engage your outer thighs and roll the upper thighs inward.
- Imagine your hip bones moving towards each other as a way to narrow the front of your pelvis.
- Tuck your lower ribs and engage your core.
- Open your shoulder blades wide and relax them down your back.
- Engage the outer arms strongly.
- Distribute the weight evenly in your fingers to support the arms.
Variations and Modifications
Getting all of the pieces of the pose down takes dedication, practice, and time. While working towards the ultimate pose, there are lots of ways to modify it or prepare the body to go deeper.
- Keep the knees generously bent and the heels off the ground. This helps to raise the hips and push the torso towards your thighs.
- Bend one knee at a time and push the opposite heel into the mat. Alternate back and forth, pedaling out your feet and warming the body into this deep stretch.
- Hook the toes of one foot onto the heel of the other, using the weight to help push your heel into the floor.
Benefits of the Pose
There are tons of great benefits to be had for the mind, body, and spirit from practicing Downward Facing Dog:
Downward Dog is an inversion, just like a Headstand, and helps to get the blood flowing to your head. By doing so, it can help combat depression and clam the mind. It can also help to energize you and reduce fatigue.
This pose stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, feet, and hands, and strengthens the arms and legs. It can help to relieve headaches and migraines, improve digestion, relieve symptoms of menopause, ease back pain, and help to prevent osteoporosis.
Downward Dog is a beautiful place to stop and reflect on your yoga practice, and ultimately your life. It is often the place that we come to stop and breathe, and by doing so, we can slow down and gain some clarity.
We are quite literally shifting our perspective when we come into Downward Facing Dog, helping us to shed new light on unresolved issues, uncover a newfound compassion for others, or simply alter the way we see ourselves to be more gentle and loving.
If you do just one yoga pose today, make it Downward Facing Dog. Your body, mind, and spirit will thank you!