Sanskrit Name: Adho Mukha Svanasana
Downward dog is usually done as part of a sun salutation sequence – the instructions here tell how to get into the pose on its own.
- Begin on hands and knees, with a neutral spine and knees directly below the hips.
- Curl the toes under. Exhaling, pressing into the hands and balls of the feet, lift the knees off the floor and press the hips into the air.
- Lengthen your tailbone away from the back of your pelvis, and lift the sitting bones toward the ceiling. Lengthen the spine; lengthen the waist.
- Check in with your body. The back and legs should be straight, as if you’re forming a big triangle with your body: straight lines from hip to heel and from head to tailbone. Knees are straight, but don’t lock them; let them be soft.
- The feet should be hip-width apart, with the weight on the balls of the feet. Press your heels down towards the floor, stretching the backs of the calves.
- Your hands should be shoulder-width apart, with fingers spread wide. Press your weight down through your whole hand, not just your palm, so the whole hand is active. However, rather than pressing the whole hand completely flat, give yourself a little bend through your finger knuckles – this will give you a little more leverage. Make sure your weight is balanced between hands and feet so your feet aren’t taking the whole load.
- Extend strongly through the arms so that your elbows are straight. Stretch and press through your inner arms, gently revolving your elbow creases forward. You don’t want a deep bend at the wrist, so take a look and see if you have a crease on the top of the wrist, and if you do, press back more strongly.
- Stretch and open the shoulder blades, drawing them toward the tailbone.
- Hold here for five long, deep, even breaths, or longer if you feel comfortable.
- To come out, drop your knees to the floor to return to a neutral tabletop pose. Or you can walk your feet up to your hands to come into a standing forward fold.
Downward dog is an important core posture in yoga. It stretches and strengthens the entire body. Down dog warms and energizes the body, calms the brain, and relieves stress.
Those with carpal tunnel syndrome or other wrist problems may have difficulty and pain in downward dog and should consider dolphin pose instead. Downward dog should not be practiced in the late stages of pregnancy.
My Experience with Downward Dog:
I’ve practiced yoga for almost nine years, so I do downward dog all the time. Recently one of my students asked for some guidance on down dog, and it was difficult for me to respond helpfully because this pose is so automatic for me now. As we talked together about the pose, I realized I didn’t have all the answers to her questions (tilt of the pelvis? orientation of the elbows?), so I wanted to look into the pose more closely to better understand the alignment and what’s going on. As my student pointed out, we do downward dog all the time, but we rarely look at exactly what we’re doing in this pose, and yoga teachers don’t usually give detailed instructions on doing the pose, assuming that any non-beginners understand it already. It was good to look more closely at this pose so that I can guide students with different body types into practicing the pose correctly.