Down Dog, or Adho Mukha Svanasana, is your dog’s favorite asana and it should be yours, too. As the “home base” of any yoga practice, it’s the pose you return to, again and again throughout your yoga sequences. But don’t be fooled: it may be fundamental and Rover certainly makes it look easy, but this pose is anything but basic.
In yoga terms, this pose is considered an “inversion,” meaning it puts the body in an upside-down position. As such, it has great benefits for circulation and prepares the body energetically for the “flow” of the yoga practice. Other benefits include strengthening and stretching the entire body and developing balance, which are all keys for vibrant health, especially as we age.
But like everything else in yoga, Down Dog must be practiced with awareness and precision focus to realize its full benefits. Below, we’ll take a deeper look at it by going over the physical cues of this beautiful pose.
Downward-Facing Dog: A Step-By-Step Guide
Step One: Start on your hands and knees, with hands shoulder-width apart and knees aligned directly beneath your hips. Spread your fingers wide and press your palms into your mat. The creases of your wrists should be parallel to the top of your mat and your middle fingers should be parallel to the sides of your mat.
Step Two: Press your fingers and palms of your hands deeply into your mat, feeling connected to the ground. Spin the creases of your elbows inward so that they face each other. Shift your gaze downward slightly and check that your knees are directly beneath your hips.
Step Three: Breathe in as you lift your head and look forward. Exhale, curl your toes, lift your knees and reach your tailbone to the sky. Ensure that your hands have maintained their position, then relax your neck and gaze between your knees.
Step Four: Check that your feet are still parallel and that your heels are directly behind the balls of your feet (no splayed and pigeon-toed positions). Extend your heels down toward your mat as you slightly bend your knees, aligning them with your second and third toe.
Step Five: Lift your sit bones as your press your hips back, straightening and lengthening the backs of your legs.
Step Six: On each inhale, lengthen through the spine, stretch your arms and press your fingers and palms into your mat. Be sure to keep your shoulders away from your ears. With each exhale, engage your leg muscles and press your hips up and back.Modifications: If your hamstrings are tight (and they usually are if you are new to yoga) bend your knees to lengthen your spine. Also, blocks underneath your hands and a strap around the elbows can ensure alignment and relieve stiff shoulders.