Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

downward facing dog (via flickr

Pronunciation: (AH-doh MOO-kah shvah-NAHS-anna)
Other Names: Downward Dog, or just Down Dog
Pose Type: Standing

Downward Facing Dog, or Adho Mukha Svanasana, is one of the most innocent-looking poses but it exposes where a yogi has muscle without flexibility. Downward Dog is the perfect post to observe and correct your body’s imbalances. For some yogis, the pose is about stretching and opening, but for others it’s about learning to stabilize their joints using muscular effort. The pose becomes a veritable laboratory of sensations when you slow down and observe where you are weak or strong, tight or flexible.

If you feel unstable in the pose, or feel that your joints are stressed in the pose, check your alignment. Come back onto all fours and check that your knees are firmly under your hips and your hands squared under your shoulders. The creases of your elbow and wrist should align with your mat. Sometimes beginners find that starting this pose with their feet against a wall and walking the hands away from the wall helps them get the alignment right. If you experience pain in the wrists, you can use fists instead. If the pose is compromised by tight hamstrings – a very common problem – you lose the stretch along the back, so bend your knees slightly until the hamstrings can be encouraged to release.

Downward dog is considered one of the most important poses in yoga, and is rest pose for many styles such as Vinyasa, from which many sequences of asanas flow.

Pose Sequence

You can come into downward Facing Dog, or Down Dog, from various standing and kneeling positions.

  1. Come to the floor on your hands and knees.
  2. Exhale and lift the hips toward the ceiling so the body forms an inverted V shape.
  3. Lengthen your spine and keep the back straight and long; the legs are as straight as possible without locking the knees. Heels of the feet are working toward the floor.
  4. Spread the hands open like starfish and the shoulders wide and relaxed.

Downward dog is one of the poses in the traditional sun salutation sequence. It’s an excellent yoga asana all on its own as well.

Benefits of Downward Facing Dog Pose

The benefits of this pose include:

  • Stretches the shoulders, legs, and spine
  • Builds strength throughout the body
  • Relieves fatigue
  • Rejuvenates the body
  • Improves the immune system, digestion, and blood flow to the sinuses
  • Calms the mind and lifts the spirits

While in Adho Mukha Svanasana, the focus is on the breath while holding the asana. Steady deep inhalation and exhalation create a flow of energy through the body.

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By Virginia O'Connor

Co-founder of and writer/content manager.