The benefits of Adho Mukha Svanasana
Arguably the most well-known yoga pose, Downward facing dog is an important base pose in yoga that’s about so much more than just wagging your tail in the air. Downward Facing Dog pose is a full back-body stretch that creates space all the way up the backline of your body and is both grounding and energising in its nature.
Downward Facing Dog benefits include releasing your hamstrings, calves, hips, lower and mid-back, and across your shoulder blades and chest. This popular yoga pose is also an inversion and an entry-level arm balance that preps you for the more challenging arm balances that follow it. Added to this Downward Facing Dog is also an important transitional pose used in Vinyasa flows that bridges the gap between standing poses and floor poses such as Plank and Cobra.
Performed correctly Downward Facing Dog can benefit a delicious stretch to your whole body. This yoga pose also strengthens your arms and legs and helps you bring vitality to your whole being. However, performed without awareness to alignment the benefits of Downward Facing Dog are often negated as it can aggravate wrists and a tight lower body. This is why it’s so important to learn how to modify Downward Facing Dog pose so that it works for you. Remember that yoga asanas are about function not form and that everybody’s Downdog will look slightly different to the next, depending on their anatomical and physiological limitations.
Downward facing dog instructions and alignment
- Start from Childs pose with your toes rolled under and your arms extended out to full length in front of you. From Childs hover your knees and then continue to push your pelvis up and back at a diagonal until you’ve made a V shape out of your body.
- Take as much of a bend in your knees as you need and don’t worry if your heels don’t reach the floor. That is not the objective of this pose! The aim here is to get your sit bones nice and high and open up the back of your body and around your shoulders. The heels will come down when they’re ready to.
- Check your alignment by starting at your hands. Spreading your fingers wide, press down through the mound of your index finger and thumb. To take the pressure off your wrists, make sure that your wrists aren’t flexed to 90˚, by ensuring you’re sending your weight up and back.
- Try to externally rotate your upper arms to find space across your upper back and chest. Your forearms should have the sensation of working towards each other. Sit your shoulder blades down your back and then work them round towards the side ribs.
- Work your way along your back actively lengthening between your vertebrae. When you reach your pelvis make sure that it’s tilted forward to help send your sit bones higher. It may help to imagine your pelvis like a bowl of water, from which you’re almost tipping water out from on to the floor.
- Hug your thigh muscles to the thigh bones to engage your legs. Pull your thing bones up into the hip sockets. Internally rotate your thighs but keep your feet pointing straight ahead in line with the width of your hips.
- Hollow out your midsection but don’t retain your breath, aiming to keep the abdomen engaged but soft. Finally, if your feet are flat on the floor, lift your toes for a breath or two then release them back down. This will help you to engage your Mula bandha (root lock).
Common problems in Downward Facing Dog pose
- If your elbows tend to bow out in Downdog then try turning your hands out slightly or adjusting the distance apart of your hands on the mat.
- If you have a tendency to hyperextend your elbows, then turning your hands in slightly will help prevent you from moving past your safe range of joint motion. Or try and keep a micro bend in your elbows to encourage your arms to stay strong and engaged.
- If you have a curved back in this asana then that’s an indication that you have tight hamstrings/hips/lower back. Bending your knees will help you to find more length and space in your back.
- If your neck is too weak to keep in line with your biceps, then allow it to hang lower for the time being, with a view to raising it up over time.
Modified Downward Facing Dog
- If holding Downdog for more than a couple of breaths puts too much pressure on your wrists, then try practising with a block under each hand or double over your yoga mat for support.
- People with tight hips may want to try placing a block under each foot to give them some extra height.
- A more restorative version of this pose uses a block under the forehead to take some of the weight off the pose.
- Use Dolphin pose as a wrist free alternative to Downward Facing Dog.
Learn all about the benefits of Trikonasana/Triangle pose here.