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

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Downward Facing Dog - Adho Muhka Svanasana
Ben Goldstein

Also Known As: Downward Dog, Downdog

Targets: Hamstring and calf stretch, mild inversion

Level: Beginner

Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) is the poster pose for yoga. The reason it has become the best-known asana is that it's so important in contemporary practice. It may be the first pose you learn as you begin a yoga practice. It is done many times during most yoga classes, particularly in Vinyasa yoga. It acts as a transitional pose and can be a resting position. Downward Dog is one of the poses in the Sun Salutation sequence.

Benefits

Doward Facing Dog stretches the hamstrings and calves and strengthens the arms, legs, and back. It can help relieve back pain. As a mild inversion, it acts in reverse of the usual forces on your spine and brings more blood flow to your brain. It also strengthens the deep abdominal muscles that help stabilize the spine.

Step-by-Step Instructions

You can do this pose anywhere you can lay out a yoga mat.

  1. Come to your hands and knees with the wrists underneath the shoulders and the knees underneath the hips.
  2. Curl your toes under and push back through your hands to lift your hips and straighten your legs.
  3. Spread your fingers and ground down from the forearms into the fingertips.
  4. Outwardly rotate your upper arms to broaden the collarbones.
  5. Let your head hang and move your shoulder blades away from your ears towards your hips.
  6. Engage your quadriceps strongly to take the burden of your body's weight off your arms. This action goes a long way toward making this a resting pose.
  7. Rotate your thighs inward, keep your tail high, and sink your heels towards the floor.
  8. Check that the distance between your hands and feet is correct by coming forward to a plank position. The distance between the hands and feet should be the same in these two poses. Do not step the feet toward the hands in down dog in order the get the heels to the floor.
  9. Exhale and bend your knees to release and come back to your hands and knees.

    Common Mistakes

    Not Releasing Your Heels

    The most common issue with beginners' Downward Facing Dogs is that they don't release their heels toward the floor. If you are up on the balls of your feet, it shifts the trajectory of the pose forward instead of back. It will never be a resting position unless you take your weight back into your heels. This doesn't mean that the heels have to touch the floor, they just have to be moving in that direction. If your teacher gives you an adjustment in this pose, it's most often to gently pull or push your hips back. Keep that feeling in mind and use it to adjust yourself.

    Butt Position

    To get your butt in the right position, bend your knees, coming up onto the balls of your feet (just for a minute!). Bring your belly to rest on your thighs and your sit bones up high. Then sink your heels and straighten your legs while keeping the high upward rotation of the sit bones.

    Banana Back

    If you are very flexible, try not to let your rib cage sink towards the floor creating a sinking spine (also known as banana back). Draw your ribs in to maintain a flat back. 

    Foot Position

    Your toes should be pointing toward the front of your mat. It's quite common for new students to want to turn the feet out, especially if they've had dance training. The distance between the feet can also be problematic. Very often students to take them too wide (near the edges of the mat) or too narrow (touching one another). Your feet should be hips' width apart, which leaves about 6 inches of space between them, give or take a bit depending on your size. Set up the feet correctly, release the heels, keep your butt high, and you'll have a good foundation for this pose.

    Modifications and Variations

    Need a Modification?

    If you have very tight hamstrings, you may not be able to keep your butt high and straighten your legs at the same time. If that's the case, it's OK to keep a slight bend in your knees. Your hamstrings will lengthen over time with the consistent practice of other poses.

    You can place a yoga block under your head to do a restorative version of the pose. For greater comfort, you can also use a block under your hands or a folded towel under your wrists.

    Up for a Challenge?

    You can deepen the pose by lifting your heels slightly from the floor and placing the weight on the balls of your feet. Draw in your pelvis and then return your heels to the floor.

    Safety and Precautions

    This pose isn't recommended if you have a wrist injury or carpal tunnel syndrome, or if you are in the last trimester of pregnancy. It should not be done if you have a condition in which you should not allow your head to be below the level of your heart, such as high blood pressure, detached retina, or recent dental bone grafts.

    Try It Out

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

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