Downward Facing Dog - Adho Mukha Svanasana

The Keys to Nailing Yoga's Most Famous Pose

Downward Facing Dog - Adho Muhka Svanasana
Downward Facing Dog - Adho Mukha Svanasana. Ben Goldstein

Also known as: Downward dog, downdog

Type of pose: Standing, mild inversion, resting

Benefits: Stretches and strengthens the whole body. Can help relieve back pain.

Downward facing dog is pretty much the poster pose for yoga. Even people who have never stepped barefoot across the threshold of a yoga class know enough to make downward dog jokes. The reason it has become the best known asana is that it's so important in contemporary practice.

It is done many times during most yoga classes, particularly in vinyasa yoga. It provides that all-important hamstring and calf stretch, acts as a transitional pose, can be a resting position (believe it!), and is a great strengthener for the arms, legs, and back in its own right. It may be the first pose you learn as you begin a yoga practice.

Set Yourself Up for Success

The most common issue with beginners' downward facing dogs is that they don't release their heels toward the floor. If you are up on the balls of your feet, it shifts the trajectory of the pose forward instead of back. It will never be a resting position unless you take your weight back into your heels. This doesn't mean that the heels have to touch the floor, they just have to be moving in that direction. If your teacher gives you an adjustment in this pose, it's most often to gently pull or push your hips back. Keep that feeling in mind and use it to adjust yourself.

Also check in with the position of your feet. Your toes should be pointing toward the front of your mat. It's quite common for new students to want to turn the feet out, especially if they've had dance training. The distance between the feet can also be problematic. Very often students to take them too wide (near the edges of the mat) or too narrow (touching one another).

Your feet should be hips' width apart, which leaves about 6 inches or space between them, give or take a bit depending on your size. Set up the feet correctly, release the heels, keep your butt high, and you'll have a good foundation for this pose.

Instructions:

1. Come to your hands and knees with the wrists underneath the shoulders and the knees underneath the hips.

2. Curl your toes under and push back through your hands to lift your hips and straighten your legs.

3. Spread your fingers and ground down from the forearms into the fingertips.

4. Outwardly rotate your upper arms to broaden the collarbones.

5. Let your head hang and move your shoulder blades away from your ears towards your hips.

6. Engage your quadriceps strongly to take the burden of your body's weight off your arms. This action goes a long way toward making this a resting pose.

7. Rotate your thighs inward, keep your tail high, and sink your heels towards the floor.

8. Check that the distance between your hands and feet is correct by coming forward to a plank position.

The distance between the hands and feet should be the same in these two poses. Do not step the feet toward the hands in down dog in order the get the heels to the floor. 

Beginners' Tips:

1. To get your butt in the right position, bend your knees, coming up onto the balls of your feet (just for a minute!). Bring your belly to rest on your thighs and your sit bones up high. Then sink your heels and straighten your legs while keeping the high upward rotation of the sit bones.

2. If you have very tight hamstrings, you may not be able to keep your butt high and straighten your legs at the same time. If that's the case, it's ok to keep a slight bend in your knees. Your hamstrings will lengthen over time with consistent practice of other poses. 

Advanced Tips:

1. If you are very flexible, try not to let your rib cage sink towards the floor creating a sinking spine (aka banana back). Draw your ribs in to maintain a flat back. 

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