Tri Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana - TINT Yoga

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Tri Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana Three Legged Downward Facing Dog

    Quick Facts

  • Sanskrit (Original): Tri Pāda Adho Mukha Śvānāsana
  • Etymology: Three (tri); leg (pāda); downward (adho); dog (śvāna), pose (āsana)
  • Fun Fact about the pose: Chances are that you won’t find this pose in the context of traditional yoga styles. However, it is more or less consciously practiced as a transition in many yoga styles.
  • 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; lifted leg: gluteus muscles
  • Vinyasa Breath: Inhale

How to Cue the Pose: Step By Step

  • 1 The foundation of Three-Legged Dog or Down Dog Split is Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana).
  • 2 From this pose, push your hands firmly into the ground, especially the hand opposite the foot you’re going to lift.
  • 3 Lift one leg straight up in the air, keeping it fully engaged up to the toes. Push the toes of the other foot firmly into the ground.
  • 4 Beware not to overstretch the toes of the bottom foot. You want to have a solid grip with your foot on the mat. Maintain a micro bend in the knee to prevent it from rolling inward. At all times keep the knee pointing forward.
  • 5 You can either open your hips or keep them closed (i.e. both hip bones face the floor).
  • 6 Contrary to the archetype of Downward-Facing Dog, you can lift your head a little bit more here.
  • 7 While pushing the hands further into the mat, raise the lifted leg higher. Push the heel up into the air.
  • 8 Engage the glute muscles of the lifted leg side.
  • 9 Keep pulling the navel to the spine to maintain the engagement of the abdominal muscles as this will give you stability in the pose.

Working The Details: Alignment In The Pose

  • Create strength and stability with the arms: Since you only have three pillars in Three-Legged Dog (hence the name of the pose), you need to pay special attention that your foundation is stable. This is why you want to create strength and stability with your arms. Not only do you have to push them firmly into the ground, you also have to focus on the external rotation of the upper arms and the pronation of the forearms. You can find a detailed explanation of these two actions in Downward-Facing Dog.
  • Keep the core engaged: Another important factor to create stability in Three-Legged Dog is the engagement of the core. Draw the navel in and up towards the spine as this will engage the abdominal muscles and give you an extra lift in the pose. You will need this since you’re missing one pillar of support in this pose.
  • Create a long line of energy: Imagine you have one long line of energy from your palms all the way up into the toes of the lifted leg. Enhance this energy by pushing the hands in the ground, lifting the shoulders, pushing the tailbone further up, and pulling the toes of the lifted foot away from you.
  • Keep the weight evenly distributed: Practitioners often tend to let all the bodyweight collapse onto the side of the leg that is on the ground. This may result in a shortened waist and arched back as soon as the other leg raises. Work against this tendency by consciously lengthening both waistlines. To do so, actively press the thigh of the standing leg back and up. Also, lift the other leg entirely, i.e. start lifting it from the root of the thigh instead of only throwing the shin up.
  • Maintain the concave shape of the back: You will notice that, as soon as you lift one leg up in the air, your lower back tends to round. Maintain the curve in the lower back by focussing even more on pushing the tailbone up and creating a little ducktail. If necessary, bend the standing leg a little more than you would do in Downward-Facing Dog. Also make sure that both sit bones stay at the same level. Usually, the sit bone of the standing leg tends to be neglected and dropped.

Adapting The Pose Through Modifications

Simplify

  • What’s the difference between a regular four-legged chair and a three-legged chair? Exactly: the position of the legs. If you struggle with balance and stability in Down Dog Split, bring the feet together before lifting one leg. This way, the bottom foot is further in the middle, making it easier to distribute the weight of your body evenly.
  • Practice pushing the lifted leg into a wall, as this will give you a reference for the extension of the lifted leg, as well as adding extra stability to the pose.

Level Up

  • Note that Three-Legged Dog is already a demanding pose as it is and a challenging variation of the archetype pose. However, if you want to challenge yourself even more, try it one-handed (making it a two-legged dog!). Lift the arm opposite to the lifted leg, i.e. when the right leg is lifted, let your left arm leave the ground. You can bring it straight behind you and let the back of the hand rest on your lower back.
  • You can also stay longer in this position and use it for various warm-up movements such as opening and closing the hip or circling the lifted foot, shin and thigh.
  • Practice transitions from Three-Legged Dog to Chaturanga Dandasana whilst keeping the leg lifted all the way.

Benefits of Tri Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana

  • Similarly to its mother pose, Three-Legged Dog strengthens the entire body from the upper body, including the arms and shoulders, to the core and the legs.
  • At the same time, it also stretches the back of the body, namely the spine, as well as the ankles, the calves and hamstrings of the standing leg.
  • This pose is the perfect transition pose, especially in dynamic yoga styles such as Vinyasa Yoga or Inside Flow. Most notably, it makes the transition from Downward-Facing Dog into one-legged standing poses such as Virabhadrasana I or Anjaneyasana easier.
  • In addition, it helps you gain awareness of your hip position and, thus, trains your body intelligence and can improve your hip flexibility.
  • Due to the reduced foundation, Down Dog Split also improves your balance, which also trains your focus and concentration, and thus calms the mind.

I integrate this pose in any flow-like yoga practice to make it easier to step forward from Downward-Facing Dog. I also noticed that it helps my students to get a better feeling for lifting the tailbone and subsequently drawing the knee in to step forward. I couldn’t imagine doing this transition without Three-Legged Dog.

Doreen

Content Manager at TINT | Passionate Yoga Teacher

FAQ: Common questions about this pose

Both are possible. I’d rather say, if you want to make it more of a Down Dog Split, i.e. focusing on extending one leg into the air, keep the hip closed with both hip bones facing the floor. This way, you can concentrate on pulling the femur (thigh bone) of the lifted leg away from the hip socket to create length. If, on the other hand, your intention is to use this pose in preparation for the step forward between your hands, you can play with opening and closing the hips in alternation. The same applies if you want to transition into Wild Thing, for example. In this case, opening the hip is a great preparation for the backbend you’re going to do.

While it certainly is most commonly practiced as a transitional pose in dynamic and flowing yoga styles, you can also make Tri Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana a static pose and hold it for several breaths. This way, the pose becomes a great strength exercise and also gives you time to find balance and stability. You can also hold it but work dynamically in the pose, for example by altering between opening and closing the hip, making circles with the legs, or drawing the knee in and extending the leg again. There are no limits to your creativity (except for your balance and strength maybe).

If you can keep the heel on the ground, good for you! However, just like in Downward-Facing Dog, lifting the heel doesn’t make the pose less perfect. Remember that the focus should rather be on lifting the tailbone and tilting the pelvis forward. If you need to lift the heel in order to do so, that’s absolutely fine. Apart from that, you will be more likely to keep the foot engaged when you’re balancing on the ball of the foot. This way, you can get a better grip on the floor and avoid sliding away.

If you notice that you’re not able to lift the leg higher than, let’s say, parallel to the floor, then you either need to build more strength in your upper body to hold you or you need more flexibility in your hip, especially the hip flexor. Work on your upper-body strength in poses like Dolphin or Plank. Especially your shoulders need to do a lot of work here, so once they become stronger, you will find it much easier to hold the pose with three pillars only. If your hip flexors are just not giving you enough space to lift the leg higher, then keep up with your yoga practice and focus on hip stretches such as Pigeon, Mini Warrior or Dancer. In both cases, be patient. With constant practice, you will notice that it becomes easier. And with every repetition of Three-Legged Dog, you will be able to lift a leg a tiny bit higher.

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