How to Do Downward Facing Dog Split (Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana) in Yoga

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

woman performing three legged dog yoga pose

 Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also Known As: Three-Legged Dog, Down Dog Split

Targets: Arms, shoulders, legs, back

Level: Intermediate

One of the most important alignment cues for standing yoga poses is whether the hips are closed (squared) or open. For instance, they are squared in Warrior I but open in Warrior II. Beginners often have a hard time knowing what this means and feeling it in their bodies. Down Dog Split illustrates it very nicely. This pose also gives you a full-body stretch. It can be a transitional pose in a Vinyasa yoga practice.


This pose strengthens the arms and core, improves hip flexibility, and increases awareness of hip position. In Downward Facing Dog, both hip points are aimed in the same direction (roughly speaking, the floor). This is the closed position.

When you lift one leg to come into Three-Legged Dog, keep the hip points in the same position, facing the floor. Your lifted leg stays in the same plane, it just comes off the floor like a lever. If you are moderately flexible, the leg will probably come no higher than hip level. One way to check your orientation is to make sure that your toes are still pointing straight down at the floor.

To feel the open position, stack one hip point on top of the other. Your leg will be able to lift much higher this way, perhaps even perpendicular to the floor. Your foot opens 90 degrees so your toes are now pointing at the side of your mat. If you bend your top knee, your heel comes toward your opposite buttock. Going back and forth between the closed and open positions is a useful exercise that gives you an awareness you can carry into other poses. 

Step-by-Step Instructions

Begin in Downward Facing Dog.

  1. On an inhale, raise your right leg off the ground behind you.
  2. Keep your hips level with one another as you lift the right leg. The hips should stay squared with the floor.
  3. Continue releasing the left heel toward the floor. Try to keep an equal amount of weight in both your arms.
  4. Extend through the raised right heel and the crown of your head.
  5. After holding the pose with the hips squared for several breaths, you can open the right hip, stacking it over the left hip. This will allow the right leg to come higher and give you a nice hip stretch. Although you are opening the hips, try to keep the torso from twisting to the left.
  6. In the open hips position, you can bend the right knee and let the right heel come toward your left buttock.
  7. After several breaths, straighten the right leg and re-square your hips toward the floor.
  8. Release the right foot back to the floor. Take several breaths in downward dog and then repeat the sequence on the left side.

Common Mistakes

To get the most from your pose, avoid these errors.

Heel Position

Make sure you do not spike the left heel when you raise the right leg. Keep the heel reaching toward the floor. However, it doesn't need to touch the floor. Don't place your feet closer to your hands in an attempt to maintain heel contact.

Sagging or Rounded Back

Your back should be a straight line with lifted pelvis.

Modifications and Variations

As with most yoga poses, you can change this pose to meet your practice level and abilities.

Need a Modification?

Don't worry about how high your right leg comes. It is more important to keep the hips squared at first.

If you have wrist pain, you can do the same pose using Dolphin as your starting position. 

Up for a Challenge?

With your hips open and lifted knee bent (step 6, above), make three big circles with your knee in each direction.

The open hips position is a good entrance point to flip your dog. Move into Wild Thing if that is part of your practice.

Safety and Precautions

As this pose involves an inversion, it is not recommended if you have high blood pressure or glaucoma. It also should be avoided if you have a wrist, ankle, or shoulder problem. It should be avoided in the third trimester of pregnancy.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

By Ann Pizer, RYT
Ann Pizer is a writer and registered yoga instructor who teaches vinyasa/flow and prenatal yoga classes.