How To Do Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

The downward-facing dog is probably the most commonly known yoga pose as it resembles that of a dog stretching.

This pose is a favourite among the yoga community for opening the hips, building flexibility, and strengthening the whole body.

It’s considered a fundamental pose with many variations that encourage anyone to try it out.

Practice the Adho Mukha Svanasana to get a jolt of energy and a boost of relaxation.

Downward-Facing Dog Benefits

The Downward-Facing Dog pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana) combines balancing, strengthening, and stretching. It is often known for awaking the arms, wrists, shoulders, and legs before practicing more complex poses like the Warrior I, II, or the Crescent Low Lunge pose.

Here are a few extra benefits the Downward-Facing Dog:

  1. Promotes Digestion: With regular practice, the downwards-facing dog can improve digestion by stimulating the organs through deep breathing and active core engagement. It can also reduce the feeling of being bloated or constipated.
  2. Improves Flexibility: Repeated practice can improve the muscles’ range of motion. Downward-Facing Dog is associated with stretching the hamstrings, calves, abdominal muscles, heels, lower back, knees, and hips. The lengthening of the spine while in a forward fold opens the hips and strengthens the ligament found in the knees and ankles — consequently making you more flexible.
  3. Releases Back & Neck Pain: The shoulders and hands do a lot of the work when practicing Adho Mukha Svanasana. If the placement of the arms, elbows, and hands are correct, this pose can release built-up tension found in the back of the neck and spine.
  4. Increases Circulation: The inversion of the legs promotes more blood flow to the heart. Thus, boosting the circulation of oxygen and the removal of unnecessary toxins. This pose can therefore result in an increase of energy.
  5. Reduces Mood Disorders: The Downward-facing dog pose, among many others practiced in yoga, has shown positive emotions, biological and psychological effects on mood disorders. Participants in one controlled study expressed a significant reduction in feelings of depression, anxiety, and anger after an each-and-every yoga class they attended. This can result from many things like self-awareness, breathing techniques, and an opposite direction of blood that soothes the nervous system.

Downward Facing Dog Steps

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) is one of the most popularized positions, and for a good reason. This pose stretch strengthens and balances the whole body. Try it for yourself with the following instructions:

Instructions:

  1. Start in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) with your feet placed at the front of your mat.
  2. Take a few deep breaths in this position before proceeding with Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold). This will warm the hamstrings and calves in preparation for downward-facing dog.
  3. At a downward folded position, lift your gaze and scoot your hands just past your head.
  4. Spread the fingers wide to create a firm grasp and extend the elbows outwards.
  5. From here, engage the pelvic muscles along with the core by pulling the belly in.
  6. Evenly spread the weight between both arms and wrists before actively lifting the hips.
  7. Naturally, your legs will want to step back, and your body should resemble a reversed ‘V’ shape.
  8. Your feet should be close together, with the toes pointing forward towards the top of the mat.
  9. Keep the soles of your feet firmly planted on the ground. You can bend your knees slightly but try to keep them straight overall.
  10. On your next big exhale, broaden the chest and take the shoulders away from the ears.
  11. Keep actively paying attention to your thighs, making sure they are not rotating inwards.
  12. Take a few deep breaths, and with each exhale, start to deepen the stretch.
  13. Play around in this position by swaying the hips side-to-side or bending the knees back-and-forth for lower back relief.
  14. To get out of this position, follow the reverse steps to Uittanasana and then Tadasana.

*We recommend going at your speed — if you feel any pain in your body, stop stretching immediately. Instead, identify where the pain is located and adjust the pose (if possible) to your comfort.

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Adho Mukha Svanasana Variations

Practice Downward-Facing Dog to help with full-body flexibility. However, if you’re feeling stiff, this pose may be challenging.

Therefore try following some of the listed variations to gain confidence and alleviate unnecessary tension in the muscles. Then, when you feel that your muscles are warmed up, you can try deepening the stretch or use that energy flow in your following sequence.

Variations

  • Three-Legged Downward Facing Dog: Follow all the steps from 1–12. Once the body is warmed up, start lifting the left leg as far back as possible without bending the knee. Keep active awareness of the weight distribution, making sure both arms distribute the body weight evenly while the right leg keeps you balanced. Stay here for 2–3 breaths before repeating on the other side.
  • Downard Facing Dog Knees Bent: If you’re feeling stiff and notice that the legs have a hard time staying flat on the mat, then try bending both knees. The heels will naturally lift but keep actively engaging in the core by pressing the belly in, releasing the shoulders away from the ears, and broadening the chest to get that deep stretch.
  • Downard Facing Dog Rotating Knees: Proceed with the same instruction lifted for Downward facing dog with the knees bent but this time rotates one knee at a time to release tension in the neck, back, and spine.
  • Downard Facing Dog Using a Chair: While standing in Moutain Pose (Tadasana), inhale, and on an exhale, bend the torso forwards, placing both hands on the chair in front of you. Keep your arms and legs stretched out with a tiny bend in the knees. The feet should be flush to the floor behind you. To release, lift with your core back to Mountain Pose before moving on with your following sequence.
  • Standing Split Pose: Follow steps 1–6. Keep your toes pointing forwards with the right foot planted firmly on the ground. Start raising your left leg high with the toes flexed towards the ceiling. On a deep exhale, bring the face closer to the right knee. Keep breathing and deepening the stretch with each exhale before repeating on the other side.
  • Crossed-Body Downward Facing Dog: Follow steps 1–12. On your next deep exhale, slowly tilt your gaze past the right shoulder and rotate your torso towards the right side. Next, grab your right ankle with your left arm. Keep actively engaging in all parts of the body while you take 2–3 deep breaths before rotating back to center. Stay here while you adjust your stance and grip before trying it on the other side.

Are you feeling dizzy? Sit and keep your head down; this will allow more oxygen to flow to your head.

Apply a cold compress to the back of your neck to avoid fainting or if you are experiencing feelings of nausea. If dizziness continues, stop altogether. If you have any concerns or questions, talk to your doctor to determine what best suits your needs.

RELATED│How To Do The Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)

Who Should Avoid

Be cautious of how your body is reacting. There may be risks associated with practicing this pose if you have preexisting conditions like:

  • Surgery
  • Heart Conditions
  • Vertigo
  • Shoulder and wrist problems
  • Recent injury (lower back, spine, shoulders, hips, knees, or legs)

It’s important to talk to your doctor or health care provider if you are experiencing unusual pain or discomfort. In most cases, your doctor will do a health assessment and provide possible solutions to overcome the pain. Set the time for yourself to avoid rushing through each pose and risk of injury.

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