Adho Mukha Svanasana - TINT Yoga

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Adho Mukha Svanasana Downward Facing Dog

    Quick Facts

  • Sanskrit (Original): Adho Mukha Śvānāsana
  • Etymology: Down (adho), face (mukha), dog (śvāna), pose (āsana)
  • Fun Fact about the pose: The position of the diaphragm moving towards the head gives us an indication why Downward-Facing Dog is classified as an inversion pose.
  • Asana Type: Inversion
  • Main length muscle groups: Hamstrings, gastrocnemius, gluteus maximus, spinal extensors
  • Main strength muscle groups: Adductors, articularis genu, vastii, muscles of the feet, muscles of the wrists and hands, pronator quadratus and teres, triceps brachii, serratus anterior, rotator cuff, deltoids, biceps brachii
  • Vinyasa Breath: Exhale

How to Cue the Pose: Step By Step

  • 1 Start in Plank Pose to determine the proper distance between your hands and feet. To do this, let your heels point upwards and keep the legs engaged so that the legs and the spine form one long line.
  • 2 Have your shoulders stacked right above your wrists and push into the floor to keep your arms straight. Spread your fingers and ground the mounts of each finger into the mat. Let your index fingers point forward at 12 o’clock so that they are parallel to each other. The hands are about shoulder-width apart or wider.
  • 3 Push into your hands on an exhale to let your sit bones rise up and back to come into the v-shape that is typical for Downward Dog. Your shoulders shift back and form a long line with your spine. Keep the knees gently bent at the beginning. This will give you more space to tilt the pelvis forward.
  • 4 Gently rotate your thigh bones inwards as this will help you to widen your sit bones. Then softly straighten your legs more by working the thigh bones backwards.
  • 5 Create a little ducktail shape in your lumbar spine by pushing your buttocks back and upward. For most practitioners, the tendency in the lower back is more towards a round back rather than a long concave shape. So bring your lumbar spine more into the body and tilt your pelvis slightly forwards to balance this tendency.
  • 6 At the same time, lift your armpits forward and keep your ears between your biceps. Suck in your thoracic spine as well.
  • 7 It’s only now that you send your heels down to the floor if this is available to you. This is the last step! Remember that the focus in Adho Mukha Svanasana should not be on placing the heels on the ground but rather on creating a long concave curve with your spine.
  • 8 Have your neck long, so that your ears are in between your arms and your gaze goes down towards the middle of your back. Don’t look back to your feet as this will strain your neck muscles.
  • 9 Keep breathing while the whole muscle chain from your heels to your fingers is engaged.

Working The Details: Alignment In The Pose

Learn about common mistakes and teaching perspectives of the pose in our Asana Tutorials.

  • Draw the forearms towards the center: Create more lift underneath your wrists by engaging your forearm muscles and pronating them (i.e. turning them inwards). From here you can imagine your forearms being drawn together by a tight rubber band. Recreate this feeling by isometrically contracting your forearm muscles. This action will help you create more lift and stability in Downward-Facing Dog Pose.
  • Rotate your upper arms outwards: Rotating your biceps outwards is a common cue in Down Dog Pose. A bit more accessible is the same action with the cue to move your armpits closer towards your heart. This action will help you to create more space in the top area of your shoulder joint. The shoulder joint, especially in Downward-Facing Dog Pose, is a quite common region for shoulder impingement to happen.
  • Lift up the sit bones: A key area to gain more length in your spine in Down Dog is the action happening in your sit bones. Gently bend your knees first and then lift your sit bones higher and higher. You can imagine drawing a half circle with your sit bones starting from the floor and drawing up towards the ceiling to support your action.
  • Work the thigh bones back: After you have lifted the sit bones and created a curve in your lumbar spine, you can work on straightening your legs. To do this, imagine the big thigh bone in the middle of your leg. Send it all the way back and straighten your legs more on the way.
  • Draw the navel up and back: The energy of your core can support you a great deal in creating a long and relaxed spine. Draw your navel up to your spine and then back towards your sit bones to create extra lift. Release the belly to become soft before repeating the action.
  • Release the head, neck and jaw: Common places for tension to accumulate in Down Dog are the head, neck and jaw areas. Opening your mouth, simulating a jawn and gently placing your tongue to the palate can help as much as gently shaking out the head and neck to release this tension.

Adapting The Pose Through Modifications

Simplify

  • Bend the knees more deeply if you have trouble keeping your spine long.
  • You can elevate your pose by placing yoga blocks either under your heels or under your hands. Place the blocks to a wall to prevent them from sliding away, if needed.
  • If you are struggling to get down to the floor, you can practice Downward-Facing Dog with the hands against a wall or placed on the seating area of a chair. You will get the same nice stretch for the back and hamstrings as in the full pose.
  • Support the head on a yoga block to make Downward-Facing Dog Pose more restorative.

Level Up

  • Play with different forms like lifting one leg up and/or extending it to the side or adding a little twist to your Down Dog. All the time try to keep the shape of the pose on point.
  • Work on your core in Down Dog by lifting one arm and the opposite leg and find balance in the pose.

Benefits of Adho Mukha Svanasana

  • This pose strengthens the entire body – the upper body, the arms, the shoulders, the abdomen and the legs. It also stretches the back of the body, the ankles, the calves and hamstrings as well as the whole spine.
  • With practice, the alignment in Downward-Facing Dog will eventually help you to reset your spine between strong backbends and forward bends and may help to reconnect with the breath in vigorous Vinyasa or Ashtanga classes. It is also a great posture to transition from one asana into another.
  • Adho Mukha Svanasana also is an integral part of the Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar) where it may even be practiced several times in each set. In the sequence, Downward-Facing Dog is regarded as more of a restful pose to recover.
  • As Down Dog is a mild inversion it will help to calm the mind and soothe the nervous system.

Downward-Facing Dog is a classic and probably one of my favorite poses. For me it functions like a reset button, reminding me that every day on the mat is different and so are the asanas. Sinking into Down Dog at the beginning of my practice serves me as an indicator how I am feeling in my body and what kind of practice is needed.

Stephi

Content Creator at TINT | Passionate Yoga Teacher

FAQ: Common questions about this pose

It is probably one of the most known yoga postures – even when you speak to someone who is not into yoga they will have probably heard about Down Dog. When I teach Downward-Facing Dog to beginners and tell them that it is commonly a restorative pose they all begin to laugh. So it is definitely a beginner pose and one of the most fundamental poses in yoga practice as it pops up frequently. It can be easily modified (see modifications section above) to make it accessible for every body.

Have you ever watched a dog stretch himself after waking up, during playtime or after a fight? Right, the movement and pose it does is the exact same pose as Downward-Facing Dog Pose. The action of the animal is called pandiculation which gives a nice organic stretch to the fascia and muscles to wake the body up after resting or to release excess energy from fight or excitement. It is a perfect pose to regulate the nervous system.

The answer to this question depends on the energetics of the class that you are practicing and the outcome you want to achieve. In more dynamic classes like in Vinyasa yoga, Downward-Facing Dog is often used as a transition pose. Here, you will work with the principle of one breath, one movement. If you are practicing a therapeutic yoga class, Sun Salutations or you simply want to spend more time working on the details, the recommendation is to hold the pose around five to ten full breath cycles (one inhale and one exhale equals one full cycle of breath). If you modify the pose to be more restorative (e.g. by using props) you can extend the pose to anything from one to ten minutes.

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