Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) probably the most recognized pose to non-yogis and yogis alike. Resembling an upside down V we find rest in this pose as our practice progresses. Initially challenging the newer student struggles with balance, and lift. This pose is representative of the struggles we face when we are young, and soon overcome and master a level of skill that builds confidence and self-esteem.
This pose helps us find the balance of our body in a slightly inverted position. Maybe not initially intuitive for most yogis but this is actually a resting pose, that can provide a bit of introspection and relief from the riggers of practice.
Body Parts Effected: Arms and Shoulders, legs (Calves and hamstrings), arches of feet and wrists
Preparatory poses: Standing forward fold, half sun salutation, child’s pose
Pose type: Extended forward fold, used for transitioning between poses, resting pose or strengthening pose
Also known as: Adho Mukha Svanasana (Adho =Down, Mukha=Face Svana= Dog Asana = Pose)
1. Starting in all fours position (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.
2. Stretch your elbows and relax your upper back.
3. Spread your fingers wide and press firmly through your palms and knuckles. Distribute your weight evenly across your hands. It may feel like you are palming a basketball.
4. Exhale as you tuck your toes and lift your knees off the floor.
5. Inhale and press your hands firmly into the mat and begin to descend your heels towards the mat. Keeping a deep bend in the knees.
6. Pull your lower belly in toward your back body. Begin to lift your hips high as you exhale into the pose.
7. Begin to straighten your legs, but do not lock your knees. Only straighten until you feel a stretch. Bring your body into the shape of an inverted “V” Imagine your hips and thighs being pulled backwards from the top of your thighs.
8. Adjust the hands or feet to feel a stretch that allows your head to begin to move through your arms. Your arms are shoulder distant apart. The legs should be far enough back on the mat that you feel extended not in a forward fold.
9. Breathe calmly and steady through the nose, lengthening the breath.
10. 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 feet and the palms of your hands.
11. Begin to move the shoulders away from the ears allowing your body as much space as possible.
12. Firm the outer muscles of your arms and press your hands at the base of the fingers evenly 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.
13. Rotate your arms externally so your elbow creases face your thumbs.
14. Draw your chest toward your thighs as you continue to press the mat away from you, lengthening and decompressing your spine.
15. Engage your quadriceps. Rotate your thighs inward as you continue to lift your sit bones high. Sink your heels toward the floor.
16. Align your ears with your upper arms. Relax your head, but do not let it dangle. Gaze between your legs or toward your navel.
17. To release, exhale as you gently bend your knees and come back to your hands and knees.
Use of a Props or Modified Versions
1. Placing the heels at the base of the wall can provide stability.
2. Using blocks under hands can take weight of shoulders.
3. Actually performing the pose at the wall can be excellent to reduce the hamstring stretch, however this is still a fairly intense shoulder stretch. More emphasis is placed on core engagement with standing ‘downward dog’ . Place hands on wall slightly wider than should distance and step feet back one at a time until spine is parallel to the floor. The feet can be repositioned to lessen the shoulder stretch
a. Always consult your medical professional prior to beginning any exercise program
b. If you have a shoulder injury consult your physician and follow their directions.
c. For individuals with Hamstring injuries, please bend knees generously.
d. If you have high blood pressure, eye infections or inner ear infections do not do the pose.
e. For wrist injury or severe carpal tunnel syndrome this pose is not recommended. The modified wall version may be acceptable, however consult your physician first.
f. For wrist soreness, if cleared by physician use blocks, or come to fists, alternately using the wall is an excellent way to take stress off the wrist by doing the pose in a standing position.
g. Pregnant women in the first trimester can generally practice downward facing dog and the variants provided there are no other underlying medical conditions. Women should avoid in late term pregnancy.