Have you ever seen a dog press his paws on the floor in front of him and bow his chest down as a signal that he wants to play? Well, you can awaken your inner pup with downward dog pose. Also known as Adho Mukha Svanasana in Sanskrit, downward-facing dog, or simply down dog, this posture is a foundational pose in yoga, meaning it is performed in just about every yoga class.
Benefits of Downward-Facing Dog
This pose has many benefits for the body, including creating length in the spine and lower body, while simultaneously increasing strength in the arms, shoulders and back. Also, since the head falls below the heart in this pose, it is considered an inversion. Compared to more complicated inversions like handstand or headstand, downward dog is a gentler way to incorporate an inversion into your yoga practice, especially if you are a beginner.
How to Perform Downward Dog
1. Set up
Start on your hands and knees on the mat. Place your knees directly below your hips, and wrists a couple inches forward of your shoulders with your finger tips pointed toward the front of the mat. Spread your fingers apart wide.
2. Getting into the pose
On an inhale, tuck your toes and on an exhale press into your hands and lift your hips to the ceiling. Make sure your hands are shoulder-width distance apart and feet are hips-width distance apart. Avoid shrugging your shoulders toward your ears by rotating your shoulders outward. Straighten your arms, but avoid locking your elbows by slightly engaging your biceps. Look back at your toes and keep your ears in line with your arms.
Press your palms into the mat and create a straight line from your wrists, to your shoulders, to your hips. Rotate the biceps forward and broaden the shoulder blades. Engage the core muscles toward the spine and slightly tuck the tailbone to elongate the lower back. Press your heels down toward the mat and attempt to straighten the legs without locking them. Hold the pose for one minute while breathing deeply in and out through the nose.
Down Dog Tips and Modifications
- Focus on lengthening the spine by lifting the hips, while simultaneously reaching the heels toward the floor.
- If you have trouble straightening your legs (which most people do), you can keep a slight bend in your knees. With the breath, bend one knee and then the other to gently and slowly feel the stretch in your hamstrings and calves. After some practice with this pose, you can slowly start to straighten both legs, releasing the heels toward the mat while simultaneously lifting the hips toward the ceiling.
- To deepen the pose, press firmly into the mat to lift the hips higher and engage your quadriceps as you actively press your hamstrings back behind you.