Every yoga pose, known in Sanskrit as an “asana,” has its own way of bringing the body and mind into greater harmony. World-renowned yoga teacher B.K.S. Iyengar poetically compares the body to a bow and each asana to the various arrows with which individuals target the ultimate aim of yoga practice — the soul.
This guide offers an in-depth look at downward-facing dog pose (adho mukha svanasana).
About the Pose
Adho mukha svanasana
This pose derives its name from the stretch you often see dogs do either before or after giving themselves a well-deserved rest. Adho mukha svanasana is meant to help you stretch out so you can release tension from your body. While initiating this pose, think of how dogs — unlike most humans — only live in the present moment. People would do well to follow this example, especially when practicing yoga.
- Strengthens ankles and legs
- Reduces stiffness in shoulder blades and heels
- Relieves indigestion
- Lowers pain from menstruation and menopause
- Increases blood flow to the face and brain, which improves concentration
- B.K.S. Iyengar advises yoga practitioners with high blood pressure or frequent headaches to support their heads with a bolster when initiating this pose.
- He also cautions people prone to shoulder dislocations to make sure their arms don’t rotate outward during this stretch.
- People with carpal tunnel syndrome should approach this pose — and any other pose that places a lot of weight on the hands or wrists — with extra care. Those individuals can modify this pose either by placing their forearms on the ground or closing their hands into fists.
- Downward-Facing Intense Back Stretch (Adho Mukha Paschimottanasana): This beginner pose lengthens the spine and stretches the legs, bringing energy and purpose to your day.
- Downward-Facing Cross-Legged Pose (Adho Mukha Svastikasana): This beginner pose reduces lower back pain, loosens the pelvis and hips, and stretches the neck and back.
- Downward-Facing Hero Pose (Adho Mukha Virasana): This beginner pose lengthens the spine, releases tension from the groin and lower back, improves flexibility in the ankle and foot, and opens the shoulders.
- Wild Thing Pose (Camatkarasana): This beginner pose opens up the chest in a gentle twist while strengthening the arms and shoulders.
Trying It Out
This pose requires no special props, but remember to keep your breathing full and steady throughout your practice. Follow these step-by-step instructions to try this pose out for yourself:
Begin in mountain pose (tadasana) with your feet together. Exhale and fold down from your waist — bend both knees if that’s easier for you — and then place your palms on the floor beside each foot.
Next, bend your knees and step back one leg at a time until your feet are about four feet away from where they started. Keep both of your hands and your feet as far apart as one shoulder-width. Make sure to align your legs with your arms.
Raise your heels to tighten the muscles on the tops of your thighs, straighten your knees, stretch the arches of your feet, and then lower them flat to the floor. (This series of movements will raise your hips into the air so your body looks like a right-angled triangle.)
Now, straighten your arms so you feel your shoulders stretch as you try to push your torso back toward your legs. Breathe through the pose so you can feel your body stretch from your palms all the way up your body and down to your heels. (Iyengar recommends stretching the base of your neck so you can gently lower the crown of your head to the floor.)
Hold the pose for 15 to 20 seconds.
Refining the Pose
Achieving maximum benefit from your yoga practice requires you to pay close attention to your physical alignment. To ensure you maintain proper alignment, ask yourself these questions:
- Have you placed your feet and hands an equal width apart?
- Did you distribute your weight evenly across your palms and your feet?
- Are your arms as straight as possible?
- Does your body vaguely resemble a right-angled triangle?
- Are your feet flat on the floor?
- Three-Legged Downward Dog (Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana): This pose starts out in a normal downward-facing dog pose. The variation then involves extending one of your back legs as high as it can go while maintaining your alignment.
- Revolved Downward-Facing Dog (Parivrtta Adho Mukha Svanasana): This twist stretches the spine and improves balance. From downward-facing dog pose, gently lift the weight off one hand while keeping the other planted. Move that hand to the opposite ankle (or calf or thigh if that’s more comfortable).