Yoga downward dog

Yoga Downward Dog

Yoga Downward Dog

How to do: Downward Dog Yoga Pose

How to do it

Begin off on all fours and also make certain your knees are slightly behind your hips. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart as well as spread your fingers out vast. Press your hands right into the floor covering and also delicately tuck your toes under and take a deep inhale, after that keeping your hands pushed right into the floor covering exhale deeply, lifting your knees off the floor and aligning your legs as high as you can.

Attempt to keep in mind to breathe in and also breathe out deeply and you can take pleasure in relocating within your down canine pose. You can paddle out your feet, enjoying really feeling the stretch at the back of the legs. See if you can develop even more room between your shoulders and unwind your neck. Loosen up the muscular tissues in your face. Attempt training your hips greater on an inhale, as well as pushing your heels right into the flooring as you breathe out. It’s fine if your legs are bent, just appreciate the juicy stretch as well as the feeling of developing area in the back of the body.

After a few deep breaths, gradually launch your knees down to the floor, untuck your toes and gently launch your hips back down right into Youngster’s pose.

Coming into the pose

You can come into Downward Pet dog from a relaxing Child’s Posture placement– from Childs’ Position you turn up onto your hands and also knees as well as then right into your downward dog as defined above. Or you can come into down dog from a deep standing forward bend (Sanskrit name: Uttanasana) by placing your hands on the flooring and going back right into the pose. An additional option is from Slab Pose. Move into Downward Canine by drawing your hips up as well as pushing your heels back.

Coming out of the pose

You can come back right into Child’s Posture after descending dog by decreasing your knees pull back to the flooring. Or you can come back into a standing ahead flex from Downward Dog by tipping your feet forward between your hands. Conversely, you can change back right into slab after by decreasing your hips and drawing your shoulders onward over your wrists.

Other tips?

If Down Dog is too awkward to begin with you can recreate the posture benefits in a less complex method by standing in an upside-down L facing the wall surface. Position your hands on the wall surface as well as change your hips back so your back is identical to the floor. Try to create the same area between your shoulders as well as along your back while attracting back the hips and pushing your feet right into the flooring, prolonging your legs.

If you have delicate wrists you can acquire ‘wedges’ to put under your wrists (thick end under wrist). This decreases the angle as well as as a result takes some stress off the wrists.

What is it good for?

Descending dog stretches out the back of the legs as well as your reduced back as well as produces space in between your vertebrae and also in between the shoulders. It can be extremely soothing and is an excellent setting to find back to for a focus on your inhale and exhale, which you need to try to make as smooth as well as steady as you can. It supplies us a tasty stretch– generally during a sequence of standing poses, which will be working your legs– and it can be a really calming, yet energising position once you have actually exercised for some time as well as built some stamina. Just remain in it for as long as fits, and also you can constantly take a rest in Child’s position.

When should you be cautious or not do it?

You should avoid Downward Dog if you have any shoulder, neck or wrist injuries. Destination Yoga has been running truly unique yoga retreats of the highest quality for over 10 years and has an array of fantastic trips on offer, pairing some of the best yoga teachers in Europe with simply stunning destinations – The perfect restorative getaway for individuals or groups of yogis of all abilities.

Head over to the Holidays page to learn about our inspiring trips or check out some of our reviews from guests and press.

How to Do Downward-Facing Dog in Yoga

One of the most recognized yoga poses in the West, Downward-Facing Dog — Adho Mukha Svanasana (Ah-doh MOO-kuh shvan-AHS-uh-nuh) — is a standing pose and mild inversion that builds strength while stretching the whole body. It’s named after the way dogs naturally stretch their entire bodies! Downward-Facing Dog (also sometimes called “Downward Dog” or just “Down Dog”) is an essential component of Sun Salutations and is often done many times during a yoga class. It can be used as a transitional pose, a resting pose, and a strength-builder.

Benefits of Downward-Facing Dog

If you struggle with Down Dog, be compassionate and patient with yourself; you are not the first person with tight hamstrings or weak arms. On the other hand, be diligent. Ultimately, Down Dog will start to feel so good that you will really empathize with the full-body joy that dogs display while doing the pose.

Downward-Facing Dog energizes and rejuvenates the entire body. It deeply stretches your hamstrings, shoulders, calves, arches, hands, and spine while building strength in your arms, shoulders, and legs. Because your heart is higher than your head in this pose, it is considered a mild inversion (less strenuous than other inversions, such as Headstand) and holds all the benefits of inversions: Relief from headaches, insomnia, fatigue, and mild depression. The flow of blood to the brain also calms the nervous system, improves memory and concentration, and relieves stress.

Regular practice of this pose can improve digestion, relieve back pain, and help prevent osteoporosis. It is also known to be therapeutic for sinusitis, asthma, flat feet, and for the symptoms of menopause.

Cautions

Do not practice Downward-Facing Dog if you have severe carpal tunnel syndrome or are in late-term pregnancy. It should also be avoided by those with injury to the back, arms, or shoulders; and by those with high blood pressure, eye or inner ear infections. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.

Instructions

Begin on your hands and knees. Align your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. The fold of your wrists should be parallel with the top edge of your mat. Point your middle fingers directly to the top edge of your mat.
Stretch your elbows and relax your upper back.
Spread your fingers wide and press firmly through your palms and knuckles. Distribute your weight evenly across your hands.

Exhale as you tuck your toes and lift your knees off the floor. Reach your pelvis up toward the ceiling, then draw your sit bones toward the wall behind you. Gently begin to straighten your legs, but do not lock your knees. Bring your body into the shape of an “A.” Imagine your hips and thighs being pulled backwards from the top of your thighs. Do not walk your feet closer to your hands — keep the extension of your whole body.
Press the floor away from you as you lift through your pelvis. As you lengthen your spine, lift your sit bones up toward the ceiling. Now press down equally through your heels and the palms of your hands.
Firm the outer muscles of your arms and press your index fingers into the floor. Lift from the inner muscles of your arms to the top of both shoulders. Draw your shoulder blades into your upper back ribs and toward your tailbone. Broaden across your collarbones.

Rotate your arms externally so your elbow creases face your thumbs.
Draw your chest toward your thighs as you continue to press the mat away from you, lengthening and decompressing your spine.
Engage your quadriceps. Rotate your thighs inward as you continue to lift your sit bones high. Sink your heels toward the floor.
Align your ears with your upper arms. Relax your head, but do not let it dangle. Gaze between your legs or toward your navel.
Hold for 5-100 breaths.
To release, exhale as you gently bend your knees and come back to your hands and knees.

Modifications & Variations

Since Downward-Facing Dog is performed so often during Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Power Yoga classes, it’s important to learn how to do it correctly to avoid injury and fatigue. Try these simple changes to find a variation that works best for you:

To begin warming up and stretching the hips, bend one knee while keeping the other leg straight. Change sides and repeat five times.

To correctly learn the spine-lengthening aspect of Downward Dog, first bend your knees in the pose, coming onto the balls of your feet. Bring your shins parallel to the mat and keep your sit bones lifting high and back. Press your hips toward the wall behind you. Then, slowly begin to straighten your legs.
For a greater challenge, lift your right leg as high as possible, reaching through the heel. Keeping your right leg lifted, extend your left arm behind you. Rest the back of your hand on your low back. Repeat on the other side.
For a restorative version of the pose, place a yoga block under your head. Release all neck tension. Hold for up to five minutes.
Place a yoga block between your inner thighs to learn the movement of inner rotation. Grip the block with your thighs and press it toward the wall behind you as you hold the pose.

Tips

When done correctly, Downward Dog can greatly benefit the whole body. Keep the following information in mind when practicing this pose:

If you are very flexible, do not let your rib cage sink toward the floor. Draw your lower ribs in and maintain a flat back.
Your heels do not need to touch the ground. Do not worry about it — avoid walking your feet closer to your hands for this purpose. Maintain the length of your spine and the lift of your pelvis.
The Dog Days of Yoga

Practicing Downward Dog will warm, strengthen, and stretch the entire body. You can use it as a transitional pose (between other poses), or as a full-body stretch on its own. Try a few rounds of Downward Dog during your day to increase blood flow and energy while calming your mind! You may find the benefits extend to all areas of your life, even off the mat.

Common Misalignments in Downward-Facing Dog (And Tips To Avoid Them)

4 Common Misalignments in Downward-Facing Dog (And Tips To Avoid Them)

I’ve been in yoga trainings and workshops where the lead teacher typically avoids using the word “mistakes” to describe a student’s alignment in a pose.

Partly, it’s because there is no single right way to do something; each body is unique, and there can be so many interpretations of the same pose that one person’s Downward-Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana) could look very different from their yogi neighbor’s.

I agree with that logic as well, as it allows for each individual to find the yoga pose that authentically resonates with their bodies and unique needs, without feeling limited to one definition. So when I encounter a pose that could use a little more fine-tuning, I use the word misalignment.

Why Alignment Matters

In yoga, it’s not about whether the pose looks like a photo out of Yoga Journal, but how the pose feels for the student.

When there is a misalignment, it gets in the way of the comfortable, continuous flow of energy in the body, and the student will find it hard to maintain what in the Yoga Sutras is called Sthira Sukham Asanam or steady (sthira), comfortable (sukham) pose (asanam).

Without a sense of ease in the pose, it’s hard to imagine coming back to your mat for more.

Down-Dog Misalignments

As one of the more well-known yoga poses, Downward-Facing Dog might seem to be an easy (dare I say boring?) pose. Which might be a reason practitioners slip into so many misalignments with this pose; they take it for granted.

However, if we work to achieve the pose with conscious alignment, Downward-Facing Dog will become a place where you can continually discover something more.

It’s a challenge to list all of the misalignments in a pose, because the number can be as infinite as the growing world population. So to make it digestible for now, I’ll focus on some common culprits that I see when students first come to my classes.

These can show up as isolated incidents, but they usually come together like a group of uninvited guests to your party. Have a look at these Downward-Facing Dog Tips that will help you avoid the most common misalignments!

Misalignment 1: Dancing Hands and Feet

Hands and feet are not centered or firmly rooted to the floor, which can stress the wrists (see my column on wrist pain when hand placement goes wrong) or ankles. Also the space between the hands and feet is either too close (like a forward bend) or too far apart (like a hammock).

Solution

Start with the Plank to Downward-Facing Dog check.

In Downward-Facing Dog, your hands and feet are roughly the same distance they would be in Plank. In Plank, line up shoulders over wrists; you can also line up the inner shoulders (where arm meets torso) with your index finger or middle finger, whichever is more comfortable.

Your shoulders, hips, and knees are in one inclined line. Without moving your hands and feet, shift your hips back and up for Downward-Facing Dog. Spread your fingers and toes wide; take up as much real estate as you comfortably can with your hands and feet.

For the feet, press down evenly on the top two corners of the foot, the big toe and pinky toe mounds.

There are different schools of thought on whether your feet are hip-width apart or pressed against each other, but the main alignment point to remember is that you shouldn’t be able to see your ankles when you look between the legs.

Misalignment 2: Disconnected Arms and Shoulders

Often, when beginners first put their hands and feet on the floor, it looks pretty awkward. Unlike our four-legged friends who are used to coordinating with all four legs, humans have a harder time remembering to unite the four limbs.

In Downward-Facing Dog, shoulders can press up against the ears, or the elbows poke out to the sides as though they are bracing themselves from falling.

Solution

Cultivate space in the chest and shoulders by plugging the arm bones into the shoulder sockets and draw the shoulder blades down the back toward the hips. Firm the muscles of the arms without hyperextending the elbows, and externally rotate the arms.

It feels as though you’re trying to point your thumbs forward, but your hands should not move. With these movements, you’ll feel the triceps wrap around the bone and the elbows will hug toward each other to help straighten the arms.

Lastly, firm the thighs to shift the weight off the arms and give you the sense of your spine growing longer. You can also practice these movements with a yoga strap looped above the elbows and a yoga block between the legs.

Misalignment 3: Rounded or Arched Back

In a rounded back, rather than an inverted V, the back is curved upwards and the spine is shortened.

This misalignment could be a symptom of tight hip flexors, hamstrings, shoulders, or specific spinal conditions like scoliosis or kyphosis, an excessive rounding of the spine. The opposite scenario occurs for hyper-flexible folks where there is an excessive arch in the spine.

Solution

For the tight folks, patience and dedication is key. You can bend the knees to shift more weight towards the legs and help traction and elongate the spine. Shrug the shoulders back to create more space around the collar bones and in the shoulders.

You may need to practice this version of the pose for a long time until your body starts to loosen up more to work towards straightening the legs while maintaining a long spine.

For the super flexible students, cultivate more strength here. Resist the urge to let your chest hang through the arms; instead draw the lower ribs into the body and lift your head between the arms, so the ears are parallel to the upper arms and the collar bones are wide.

Misalignment 4: High-Heeled Dog

The heels are high off the ground, which could indicate tight hamstrings, hip flexors, or calf muscles. This also likely means much of the body weight rests on the wrists.

Solution

Much like with the rounded back scenario, bending the knees to lengthen the spine can be a great help here. While keeping the feet pointing forward, internally rotate the legs, like you’re squeezing a block, and firm up the quadriceps as though someone were pulling you back by your hips.

Once the body warms up, the muscles might loosen up enough to move the heels closer to the floor, but don’t push it. Wait for your body to agree to deepen. The aim is not to just get the heels to the floor, but to work towards doing so with ease and with the whole body working together.

10 Alignment Tips To Improve Your Downward Dog

10 Alignment Tips To Improve Your Downward Dog

It’s got to be the most recognised of all yoga poses, right? Adho Mukha Svanasana, or Downward-Facing Dog appears in most styles of yoga as either a strengthening pose, a transition pose, or a resting pose. Getting the alignment right is not only important for your anatomy, it also helps you truly love this pose.

I really do understand those of you who have an aversion to the inverted V. I’d groan internally whenever the teacher asked us to “rest” in Downward Dog, because it honestly felt nothing like a rest. Honestly, this pose was my nemesis when I first started practicing yoga. If you’re practicing yoga for the first time, I recommend signing-up to the 30 Day Yoga Challenge. A regular practice really helped me find my flow and this challenge will help you get into a good routine and of course, help you practice your downward dog so you get better and better!

A form of scoliosis combined with an extremely tight psoas and hamstrings mean that I often have a pronounced bulge in my lower thoracic spine in Downward Dog, particularly in the morning before I’m warmed up.

At the start, I was fixated with placing my heels on the floor, feeling as though that was the measuring stick. But that only served to compress my spine and create a whole lot of discomfort.

Thankfully, right before I went through teacher training a few years later, I met a yoga teacher who was pretty fastidious about how we got down in our Dogs.

By focusing on and emphasising some not-so-obvious but very crucial alignment cues, this pose for me transformed from Adho Mukha Svanasana, the thorn in my side, to Aaaaaaaaaadho Mukha Svanasana—the big sigh of relief.

So without further ado, here are 10 alignment tips to improve your Downward Dog that have transformed the pose for me and will hopefully do the same for you! Woof.

1. Hands should be shoulder distance apart.

Spread your fingers wide and align your wrist crease to the front of the mat. Use the whole surface area of your hand including your five finger pads and emphasise pressing the index and thumb pads into the mat.

2. Feet are sit-bone or hip distance apart.

Glance back and check your feet. If you can see your heels, try turning them out slightly so you can’t see them anymore.

3. Activate your arms.

As you press down through your wrists, feel the energy draw back up to activate your arms. Feel as though your thumbs want to draw in magnetically towards each other, which will slightly rotate your forearms inwards, towards each other.

4. Upper arms externally rotate.

I know it sounds tricky to internally rotate the forearms and externally rotate the upper arms, but anatomically, the arms are up for it. It’s a fairly subtle action and I like to imagine I’m hiding my underarms from the person on the next mat when doing it.

This will also keep your shoulders away from your ears, giving more space in the neck.

5. Neck and head continue along the same line as the spine.

It’s super important to be aware of where your head and neck are in space in any yoga pose, and this one is no exception. The neck is part of the spine, so it should follow the same natural line.

In a person with text book alignment, the head will be between the upper arms—but of course, exact placement of the neck will depend on your specific anatomy. The key thing to be mindful of is that you’re neither letting the head just ‘hang,’ nor crunching the neck too far up.

6. Firm shoulder blades and broaden across the upper back.

Loads of yogis scrunch up through the tops of the shoulders and around the neck in this pose, which can create even more tension and make it really uncomfortable.

By firming the shoulder blades and feeling them draw down towards the tailbone and broadening across the upper back, you can provide space as well as stability in your pose.

7. Engage the lower belly by drawing the navel in towards the spine.

A firm core is key and can help take some weight off from the shoulders and wrists, and back into the legs. Draw the lower ribs in and keep this core activation going throughout the pose.

8. Bend knees a little (or a lot) and send the sit-bones and tailbone up and back.

down1-sidebyside

Feel the difference this makes in your spine. If you have tight hamstrings, for the sake of your back you are far better to practice this pose with bent knees rather than force the heels down and compromise length in the spine.

Let your focus be spine first, heels down second (check out the photos above to see the comparison).

9. Inner thighs rotate inwards as you firm the outer thighs.

Do this, and notice how much easier it becomes to lift the sit bones up and back.

10. Straighten legs without changing the shape in the spine or pelvis.

Once you’ve reached this point, you can start to lengthen the heels back. Perhaps they reach the floor, perhaps they don’t. One of the great benefits of this pose is lengthening out through the legs, but I find that by prioritising the heels down last, both my students and I enjoy a much better experience in our spine, which should always take priority.

When the muscles in the backs of the legs are ready to lengthen, they’ll lengthen. Be patient and embrace your point in the journey. Guys, these are general tips, which means they don’t take into account any specific injuries or conditions. As an example, if you have a wrist injury, you may need to modify to the forearms (Dolphin Pose) or try this pose against a wall.

If you do have any specific conditions, please ask your yoga teacher in person about modifications suitable for your totally unique and awesome self.

DOWNWARD-FACING DOG ALIGNMENT: ARE YOU DOING IT WRONG?

 

You can’t consider a single yoga exercise class without Downward-Facing Dog, or Adho Mukha Svanasana as it is called Sanskrit. It is extensively thought about THE asana and also also non-yogis will certainly have heard of this position. It’s not a simple asana, however, as well as however renowned it might be, there is a whole lot to take note of in Downward-Facing Pet dog alignment.

LET’S CONSIDER THE POSITIONING IN DOWNWARD-FACING PET CAREFULLY:

1. Exactly how Do You Obtain the Right Positioning In Downward-Facing Pet?
2. What Is Your Body Doing In Downward-Facing Pet dog?
3. Do You Make These 5 Mistakes In Downward-Facing Pet Positioning?
4. Just how Do You Develop Downward-Facing Dog Into Your Yoga Practice?
5. What Are the Conveniences of Downward-Facing Pet Dog?

1. HOW DO YOU GET THE RIGHT ALIGNMENT IN DOWNWARD-FACING DOG?

 

Downward-Facing Dog engages the whole body. Exercise it with Matt Giordano on COLOR.

In a very first step, you ought to determine the range between your hands and feet. The very best starting point for this is Slab posture: Allow your heels direct upwards and maintain the legs involved to ensure that the legs and the back type one long line.
Keep your arms right and also upright under your shoulders. Spread your fingers and also let your index fingers direct ahead at 12 o’clock to make sure that they are alongside each various other.
Now is the moment to raise up your butts to find right into your Descending Dog. Keep the knees carefully curved at the start. This will give you more area to turn the hips ahead.
Expand your sit bones initially before you gently straighten your legs. Inwardly turn the thighs and also push them back.
Press your butts back and also up to develop a gentle contour in the spine. The propensity is more towards a lengthy concave form as opposed to a round back. Visualize you wish to absorb your back spine.
At the exact same time, raise your underarms forward and also maintain your ears in between your arms. Attempt to draw in your thoracic spinal column too.
It’s just now that you push your heels down if this is offered to you. This is the last step! Bear in mind that the emphasis in Adho Mukha Svanasana should not be on putting the heels on the ground however rather on creating a long concave curve with your spinal column.
Maintain breathing while the entire muscular tissue chain from your heels to your fingers is involved.

If you’re currently excited to place the concept right into method, turn out your yoga exercise mat as well as let Young Ho Kim take you detailed right into the correct Downward-Facing Dog alignment in his Inside Yoga Alignment program on TINT.

2. WHAT IS YOUR BODY DOING IN DOWNWARD-FACING DOG?

2.1. What Are the Joints Doing?

Let us first take a look at the movements of your joints in this asana. While the spine is in axial extension, there is a lot going on in the joints of the upper limbs:

elevation and upward rotation of the scapulae (shoulder blades)
flexion of the shoulder
extension of the elbows
pronation of the forearms
dorsiflexion of the wrists.

Exploring the movements in the lower joints, we see the nutation of the sacroiliac joint, which means that the sacrum moves separately from the pelvic bones so that the top of the sacrum tilts forward while the bottom of the sacrum (near the coccyx) tilts back.

The hip is flexed, the knees are extended and the ankles are in dorsiflexion so that the toes are pointing towards the shins.

2.2. Which Muscles Are Engaged?

The major players in Downward Dog are the spinal extensors and flexors since they help you to maintain the alignment of the spine.

In addition, there is a number of engaged in the upper limbs to help you maintain your alignment in Downward-Facing Dog:

The serratus anterior allows the upward rotation and adduction of the scapulae on the rib cage.
The rotator cuff, which is a combination of the four muscles subscapularis, infraspinatus, teres minor, and supraspinatus, stabilizes the shoulder joint while the deltoids and the biceps flex the shoulder.
The triceps extends the elbow.
The pronator quadratus and teres effect the forearm pronation.
The intrinsic muscles of the wrists and hands stabilize the hand.

Let us now take a closer look at the lower limbs:

The adductor magnus is engaged in the internal rotation and adduction of the femur bone.
For the extension of the knees, the articularis genu and vasti contract concentrically.
The intrinsic muscles of the feet contract to maintain the arches of the feet without inhibiting the dorsiflexion of the ankles.

3. DO YOU MAKE THESE 5 MISTAKES IN DOWNWARD-FACING DOG ALIGNMENT?

Since you probably will be practicing this pose in almost every yoga class, it is essential that you have a sound understanding of the correct alignment in Downward-Facing Dog. If you’re more of a hands-on person, check out our Inside Yoga Alignment program where you can put the profound explanation yoga expert Young Ho Kim provides you directly into action. There is even a whole video focusing on the right & wrong in Down Dog.

Do you make these mistakes in Downward-Facing Dog? Photo: TINT teacher Young Ho Kim with Ami Norton.

1. Standing Too Narrow

One quite common mistake is that the pose is too narrow, i.e. that the distance between the hands and the feet is too small. This is not a healthy position for the spine.

Neither is this very beneficial from a practical perspective: In Vinyasa flows, you usually transition into Plank from Downward-Facing Dog. So, if your Down Dog is too narrow, you have to shift your feet backward to have a proper alignment in Plank pose.

This is why you should start building your Downward Dog from Plank pose to find the right distance: Let your heels point up, keep your legs and your spine in one line and bring your arms vertical under the shoulders. In this position, your hands and feet have the perfect distance to transition into your Adho Mukha Svanasana.

2. Inwardly Rotating the Arms

Another misalignment that you see quite often is that the upper arms are inwardly rotated. Since this can bear the risk of shoulder impingement, you should aim at rotating your upper arms externally. To make this outward rotation of the arms easier, let your index fingers instead of the middle fingers point forward.

3. Collapsing the Shoulders

Furthermore, you want to prevent your shoulders from collapsing when you perform Downward Dog. This usually happens when the shoulders are drawn away from the ears. Lift your shoulders up towards your ears instead and bring your ears next to your biceps by pushing the ground away.

Some students that are hypermobile in the shoulder joint may even tend to let the chest sink down, which leads to compression in the shoulder joint. This can also be avoided by pushing the ground away to create length and lift the shoulders.

4. Flexing the Neck

While you don’t want to put too much tension on your neck by hyperextending it, you should also avoid flexing the neck muscles too much. This usually happens when you tuck in the chin with the intention to look at your navel.

Instead, lift your chin up to create a slight concave curve in the neck and keep your ears between your biceps.

5. Tucking the Tailbone

If you tuck your tailbone with straight legs in Downward-Facing Dog, your pelvis moves backwards, i.e. up. As a result, your lower back is rounded in a convex shape. Besides, this puts too much stress on your hamstrings.

Instead, bend your knees slightly to tilt the pelvis forward. Lift the armpits up so that the lumbar spine will move slightly inward and create a concave shape. Maintain this lumbar curve when you straighten your legs. This alignment is not only healthier for your spine, it also is a much more intense – but safer – hamstring stretch.

Aim for a concave curve in your spine in Downward-Facing Dog. Photograph by TINT.

If you’re looking for alignment tips for other common yoga poses, check out our free yoga asana ebook. It will give you a basic understanding of the alignment principles of some of the most common yoga poses and will make a huge difference to your yoga practice.

4. HOW DO YOU BUILD DOWNWARD-FACING DOG INTO YOUR YOGA PRACTICE?

Beginners may start with bent knees in order to maintain a straight spine. With practice, the knees can gradually be straightened. It is also possible to keep the heels off the ground if they do not touch the floor due to tight calf muscles or achilles tendons. Note that not being able to put the heels on the ground may also be due to bone compression, i.e. the individual skeletal alignment.

It is always a good idea to prepare your body for your yoga practice since this will make it easier to move into poses such as Downward-Facing Dog. Check out Duncan Wong’s video to get some inspiration for your warm-up for Adho Mukha Svanasana. A great preparatory pose for Downward Dog is Plank pose as it helps to find the correct distance between the hands and the feet.

Child’s pose is a great counterpose to relax the spine and the limbs after the whole body has been engaged in Down Dog.

Besides, there are numerous variations of Downward-Facing Dog, with the most common one probably being Three-Legged Dog where one leg is stretched into the air while the hips are kept parallel to the floor. Another variation is Revolved Downward-Facing Dog, where the hand reaches diagonally underneath the body to get hold of the opposite foot or calf.

Adho Mukha Svanasana is also part of the typical Vinyasa, i.e. the transitional movement from Chaturanga to Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) to Downward-Facing Dog, which is often practiced in yoga flow classes. There is a huge variety of flowing yoga programs available on TINT, one of which is Kristin McGee’s Yoga Flow.

Memorizing all these alignment principles and constantly implementing them throughout your practice is not always easy. This is why we created a free ebook where we have summarized the alignment essentials of some of the most common yoga poses as a reference guide for you.

5. WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF DOWNWARD-FACING DOG?

This pose strengthens the entire body – the upper body, the arms, the shoulders, the abdomen and the legs. It also stretches the back of the body, the ankles, the calves and hamstrings as well as the whole spine.

With practice, the alignment in Downward-Facing Dog will eventually help you to reset your spine between strong backbends and forward bends and may help to reconnect with the breath in vigorous Vinyasa or Ashtanga classes. It is also a great posture to transition from one asana into another.

Adho Mukha Savasana also is an integral part of the Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar) where it may even be practiced several times in each set.

So, roll out your mat and practice some rounds of (un)classical Surya Namaskar with David Lurey in this video and apply your newly acquired knowledge straight away!

How to Do Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) in Yoga

Downward Facing Dog

Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) is the poster pose for yoga. The reason it has become the best-known asana is that it’s so important in contemporary practice. It may be the first pose you learn as you begin a yoga practice. It is done many times during most yoga classes, particularly in Vinyasa yoga. It acts as a transitional pose and can be a resting position. Downward Dog is one of the poses in the Sun Salutation sequence.

Benefits

Doward Facing Dog stretches the hamstrings and calves and strengthens the arms, legs, and back. It can help relieve back pain. As a mild inversion, it acts in reverse of the usual forces on your spine and brings more blood flow to your brain. The pose also strengthens the deep abdominal muscles that help stabilize the spine.

Step-by-Step Instructions

You can do this pose anywhere you can lay out a yoga mat.

Come to your hands and knees with the wrists underneath the shoulders and the knees underneath the hips.
Curl your toes under and push back through your hands to lift your hips and straighten your legs.
Spread your fingers and ground down from the forearms into the fingertips.
Outwardly rotate your upper arms to broaden the collarbones.
Let your head hang and move your shoulder blades away from your ears towards your hips.
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.
Rotate your thighs inward, keep your tail high, and sink your heels towards the floor.
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.
Exhale and bend your knees to release and come back to your hands and knees.

Common Mistakes

Not Releasing Your Heels

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.

Butt Position

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.

Banana Back

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

Foot Position

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 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 of 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.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

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 the consistent practice of other poses.

You can place a yoga block under your head to do a restorative version of the pose. For greater comfort, you can also use a block under your hands or a folded towel under your wrists.

Up for a Challenge?

You can deepen the pose by lifting your heels slightly from the floor and placing the weight on the balls of your feet. Draw in your pelvis and then return your heels to the floor.

Safety and Precautions

This pose isn’t recommended if you have a wrist injury or carpal tunnel syndrome, or if you are in the last trimester of pregnancy. It should not be done if you have a condition in which you should not allow your head to be below the level of your heart, such as high blood pressure, detached retina, or recent dental bone grafts.