How to do Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Let's make your Downward Facing Dog better! We explain each alignment point and modification so your pose is more comfortable and beneficial.
Ann Pizer |
Even if you’ve never stepped onto a yoga mat, chances are that you’ve heard of Downward Facing Dog. This pose is closely associated with yoga in the popular imagination for a good reason. It’s done repeatedly throughout vinyasa-style classes as a transition pose, a place to catch your breath, and for its own benefits. But just because Down Dog is everywhere doesn’t mean that it’s a simple posture. There are actually quite a few subtle yet important alignment points to implement throughout this pose. We’re going to go over them now, along with a few common pitfalls, to help you get the most out of this posture every single time you do it.
Right up front, let’s talk about one of the most common problems with Downward Facing Dog: the feet. Beginners tend to have trouble getting their feet the proper distance apart. Your feet should not be as wide as the mat. Neither should they be touching. They should be hip distance apart. A lot of people overestimate that distance. It doesn’t mean how wide the your thighs are. Instead, picture drawing a line straight down from where your femur (thigh bone) inserts into your pelvis on each side, then extending that line so it shoots out your heels. Set up with the outer edges of your feet parallel to one another, which may mean that your toes are turned in ever so slightly. When the feet are in this position, it allows your legs to carry their fair share of weight.
Benefits of Downward Facing Dog
Stretches the hamstrings and calves
Strengthens the arms, legs and back
1. Begin on your hands and knees with your wrists under your shoulders. Extend your legs back to come into a Plank position. Don’t worry, we won’t stay here long! Moving from Plank is a good way to ensure that your hands and feet are the proper distance apart. (NB: pushing back directly from a hands and knees position tends to give you a short Dog.)
2. From Plank, press into your palms and lift your hips, drawing them toward the back of your mat. Have the shape of an inverted V in your mind.
This is the very basic form. Now we will fine tune. The pose is not a rigid, static position, but rather a general shape with continuously shifting borders.
3. Bend your knees deeply and come onto the balls of your feet. Point your sitting bones toward the ceiling. Bending the knees takes your hamstrings out of the equation so you can lift your tail while keeping your pelvis neutral. Once you’ve done that, you can restraighten your legs or keep them bent a little (or a lot) if you have tight hamstrings.
4. Now release your heels toward the floor. That doesn’t mean that they have to touch the floor, but they should have weight in them. They usually hover just above the ground. Staying up on the balls of your feet makes for a different pose.
5. Engage your quads and aim for a slight inner rotation of the thighs to help spread your sit bones.
Now on to the upper body!
6. Spread your fingers wide and press down into the full length of each finger. This will slightly dome your palms (Hasta Bandha), which helps reduce wrists strain. Also, make sure your wrist creases stay parallel to each other, meaning that your hands are neither turned in nor out.
7. Line up your inner elbow creases with your wrist creases. A slight softening of your elbows will help prevent wear and tear on the shoulders over time. It also helps give your upper arms an external rotation, which broadens the shoulder blades and allows you to release your neck.
8. Speaking of which, let your head hang heavy. Some practices encourage you to get your head to the floor, but this often leads to a collapse of the upper spine, in which the shoulder blades move toward one another and the chest bows. Keep your shoulder blades separated, your belly softly toned, and your ribs knitted together to maintain a straight, supported spine.
9. Breathe deeply.
As you can see, Downward Dog presents challenges both for people who have tightness in their bodies and those who are hypermobile. If it doesn't feel comfortable to you right away, don't worry; you'll have ample opportunities to settle in to your Dog over the course of your lifelong practice!