The Downward-Facing Dog Pose, also known as Adho Mukha Svanasana, is a fundamental and versatile yoga pose that demands strength, flexibility, and balance.
It is a staple in many yoga practices, often used as a resting pose or a transition between other poses. The pose involves positioning the body in an inverted ‘V’ shape, with hands and feet on the ground and the hips raised towards the sky.
This pose is a part of traditional Sun Salutation sequences and is commonly practiced in various styles of yoga, including Hatha, Vinyasa, and Ashtanga. It provides many benefits, such as strengthening the upper body, stretching the hamstrings and calves, and calming the mind.
|Sanskrit Name and Pronunciation||Adho Mukha Svanasana (AH-doh MOO-kah shvah-NAHS-anna)|
|Pose Type||Inversion, Arm Balance, Forward Bend|
How to Do the Downward-Facing Dog Pose
- Start in Mountaing pose with your feet hip distance apart and your hands shoulder distance apart.
- Press your palms into the mat and lift your hips up and back, creating an inverted V shape with your body. Your head should be between your arms, facing your knees, and your back should be flat.
- Ensure your feet are parallel to each other and your toes are pointing straight ahead. Your heels should be reaching towards the ground, but it’s okay if they don’t touch the floor.
- Engage your core and keep your gaze towards your navel as you breathe deeply and evenly.
- Hold this pose for a few breaths, feeling the stretch in your hamstrings, calves, and shoulders.
- To exit the pose, gently lower your knees to the ground and shift your weight back to sit on your heels, coming into Child’s Pose (Balasana) for a few breaths before standing up.
- Repeat this pose as needed, remembering to breathe deeply and evenly throughout.
|Upper Body:||Deltoids, Rotator Cuffs, Trapezius, Rhomboids, Latissimus Dorsi, Pectoralis Major, Biceps, Triceps|
|Core:||Rectus Abdominis, Obliques, Transverse Abdominis|
|Back:||Latissimus Dorsi, Rhomboids|
|Glutes:||Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius, Gluteus Minimus|
|Legs:||Gluteus Medius, Gluteus Minimus, Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Adductors, Gastrocnemius, Soleus|
While there are many research-backed mental and physical benefits of yoga, there are few — if any — official studies on the Downward-Facing Dog pose. However, it’s generally believed that practicing the Downward-Facing Dog pose provides several health benefits.
The Downward-Facing Dog pose requires flexibility in the hamstrings, shoulders, and calves. Regular practice of this pose can help increase flexibility in these areas over time.
The Downward-Facing Dog pose requires a significant amount of upper body and core strength to hold the pose. Practicing this pose can help build strength in the arms, shoulders, and core muscles.
The Downward-Facing Dog pose involves balancing on both hands and feet, which can help improve balance and coordination.
Stretches the Spine and Hamstrings
This pose helps to stretch and lengthen the spine and hamstrings, which can help improve posture and alleviate back pain.
The Downward-Facing Dog pose requires focus, balance, and strength, which can help calm the mind and promote relaxation. It also allows for a moment of inversion, which can help to relieve stress and anxiety.
Drawbacks and Risks
The Downward-Facing Dog Pose, while beneficial for strength, flexibility, and balance, also comes with its own set of potential risks and drawbacks if not practiced correctly.
Wrists. This pose places a significant amount of weight on the wrists, which can lead to strain or injury if not properly aligned. It’s crucial to distribute the weight evenly across the hands and fingers, and avoid dumping all the weight onto the wrists.
Shoulders. The Downward-Facing Dog Pose requires strength and stability in the shoulders. If the shoulders are not strong enough or not aligned properly, there is a risk of injury to the muscles in the shoulder as well as the shoulder girdle (the clavicle and scapula bones).
Hamstrings. This pose involves a deep stretch of the hamstrings. If the muscles are not properly warmed up or if the stretch is forced, there is a risk of straining or pulling the hamstring muscles.
Lower Back. The pose can put strain on the lower back, especially if the spine is not kept in a neutral position. It’s important to engage the core and maintain a straight back to avoid injury.
Head and Neck. The head and neck should be relaxed in this pose, but if they are not, it can lead to tension and strain. It’s important to keep the neck in line with the spine and avoid dropping the head too low or lifting it too high.
If you experience discomfort or pain while practicing this pose, stop immediately, modify it, or come out of it. It’s also important to warm up properly before attempting this pose and gradually build up to its full expression.
Here are a few common mistakes to avoid when practicing the Downward-Facing Dog pose.
- Not Warming Up. Similar to the Wild Thing pose, it’s crucial to warm up before attempting the Downward-Facing Dog pose. This can include yoga practices such as sun salutations, cat-cow stretches, and other poses that help warm the wrists, shoulders, and hamstrings.
- Incorrect Hand Placement. The Downward-Facing Dog pose involves placing your hands firmly on the mat, shoulder-width apart. Incorrect hand placement can lead to wrist strain or injury. Ensure your fingers are spread wide and your weight is evenly distributed across your hands.
- Rounding the Back. It’s important to keep the spine long and straight in the Downward-Facing Dog pose. Rounding the back can lead to strain or injury. Engage your core and lift your tailbone towards the ceiling to maintain a straight back.
- Overstretching the Hamstrings. While the Downward-Facing Dog pose does stretch the hamstrings, it’s important not to push too hard and overstretch. This can lead to muscle strain or injury. Keep a slight bend in your knees if needed to avoid overstretching.
- Ignoring the Feet. The feet play a crucial role in the Downward-Facing Dog pose. They should be hip-width apart and parallel to each other. Ignoring the feet can lead to instability and imbalance in the pose.
- Not Using Props. If you’re new to the Downward-Facing Dog pose or have limited flexibility, it can be helpful to use props such as blocks or straps to support the body and help you find proper alignment.
Modifications and Variations
If you’re new to the Downward-Facing Dog Pose or have limited flexibility or strength, several modifications can help you build up to the full expression of the pose. Here are some modifications to try:
If you’re having trouble reaching the ground with your hands or feet, you can use props such as blocks or blankets to support your body and help you find proper alignment. Place the blocks or blankets under your hands or feet to help lift your body off the ground.
Bend Your Knees
If you have trouble straightening your legs in the pose, you can try bending your knees. This modification can help you build strength and flexibility in your legs and back.
Practice with a Wall
If you’re having trouble finding balance in the Downward-Facing Dog Pose, try practicing with a wall for support. Place your hands on the wall and lift your hips up and back, keeping your feet on the ground. This modification can help you find stability and build confidence in the pose.
Practice the Child’s Pose
This pose can help stretch and relax the back muscles, preparing you for the Downward-Facing Dog Pose. Start in a kneeling position, sit back on your heels, and reach your arms forward on the ground. This pose can be a good counterpose to Downward-Facing Dog, helping to release any tension in the back.
Meagan Morris is the editor in chief of Celebribody. She's veteran health and wellness editor with over 15 years of experience. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Yahoo Health, Cosmopolitan, SELF, and Women's Health, among others. She spends most of her time writing, but her favorite part of the day is spent under a barbell doing squats.