Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)

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How to do it

Begin on your hands and knees with your shoulders aligned over your wrists and your hips aligned over your knees.

Exhale: Curl your toes under and lift you knees off the floor, extend your legs best you can and pull your tailbone away from your hands.

Inhale: Bring your knees back down and lift your chest up.

Breathing in Adho Mukha Svanasana

Inhale: Lengthen along your spine stretching from your hands to your tailbone.

Exhale: Hug your waist in and slide your shoulder blades slightly in the direction of your waist.

TRICK. Keep your knees as bent as necessary to accommodate spinal elongation. Keep your upper back wide and try to turn your arms so that your elbows are pointing down at the floor. Keep your neck relaxed and avoid rounding your upper back.

Upper body alignment in Downward Facing Dog

Alignment of the upper body in Adho Mukha Svanasana will largely depend on the condition of your hamstrings. If your hamstrings are tight, you might end up with the “rounded back”, which compromises the axial extension of the spine that we are after. This can be remedied by bending the knees more generously. If your hamstrings (and shoulder joints) are too loose, you might end up with the “chest dip”. It might seem like an accomplishment and “going deeper” to pull the chest toward the thighs, but in reality it is very destabilizing for the shoulders (especially for those folks who already lack stability there). So instead of hanging on the shoulder joints, it makes sense to pull out of this “dip” and focus on lengthening the spine instead, stretching from the palms to the tailbone.

Pose adaptations

On forearms

Adho Mukha Svanasana: On forearms takes the wrists out of the equation and allows us to focus on what’s going on with our spine and shoulders. It works well for folks with wrist injuries, but it can also be pretty tough on the shoulders.

One heel down

Adho Mukha Svanasana: One heel down allows us to stretch the backs of the legs gradually and one at a time. This pose targets the hamstrings and calves and helps us ease our way into the pose.

Knee by the chest

Adho Mukha Svanasana: Knee by the chest strengthens and stretches the calves, ankles and hamstrings. It also engages the hip flexors of the tucked leg and can help students get a better idea of their upper body alignment by using their tucked leg as a reference point.

Heel raises

Adho Mukha Svanasana: Heel raises targets the calves and ankles and allows the student to gradually ease into the pose. It can also serve as a diagnostic tool for a teacher, to give her a better idea whether the restriction in this pose comes from the hamstrings or calves. If the students can lift up on the toes and effectively lengthen along the spine, then the restriction comes from the calves. If their upper back remains rounded, then the restriction is coming from the hamstrings.

Extended legs

Adho Mukha Svanasana: Extended legs stretches the hamstrings and calves and can feel very satisfying. It is only worth doing this version of the pose if we can keep the spine long and and our shoulders properly supported.

Leg raises

Adho Mukha Svanasana: Leg raises engages the glutes and puts a bigger load on the hands. It strengthens the core, shoulders and hips. You have to be careful not to rotate the pelvis when you lift the leg, otherwise you might strain the sacrum.

Leg pumps

Adho Mukha Svanasana: Leg pumps emphasizes the work in the glutes and hamstrings. All the muscles in your body have to work hard to support you in this position and to stabilize you during movement. It is very important to keep your pelvis leveled to avoid stressing your sacroiliac joints.

With chair (back)

Adho Mukha Svanasana: with chair (back) is useful for folks who cannot bear weight on their hands and/or shoulders. It’s also useful for anybody who is confused about the body alignment in Downward dog, because it gives you a chance to explore body positioning without the added challenge of weight bearing. And since the most important thing in this pose is spine lengthening, this is a perfect substitute that helps you accomplish the same thing.

With chair (seat)

Adho Mukha Svanasana: With chair (seat) is a bit more challenging than placing your hands on the back of the chair. It stretches both the hamstrings and the shoulders a bit more and can be a great intermediary step before attempting this pose on the floor.

Chakravakasana combo

Adho Mukha Svanasana: Chakravakasana combo is a great way to warm up the entire body: your back, shoulders, hips, legs and ankles. It alternately stretches and gently contracts those areas to improve circulation and prepare the body for other, more difficult postures.

Plank combo

Adho Mukha Svanasana + Plank combo allows you to work your core, strengthen your shoulders and gradually stretch your hamstrings without straining them. It can also help deepen your breath as you move, and has a very meditative quality about it.

Urdhva combo

Adho Mukha Svanasana: Urdhva combo works great for alternatively stretching and contracting the entire front and back surface of the body. It engages and mobilizes your wrists, shoulders, back, hips, legs and ankles. It’s a great way to quickly warm up the body, as long as the student can stay in control of their lower back curve in Upward Facing Dog and doesn’t have any wrist issues. It might take some tinkering to figure out just the right distance between the hands and feet in this pose to make this back and forth transition more smooth.