Downward Facing Dog | Adho Mukha Svanasana
(AH-doh MOO-kah shvah-NAHS-anna)
adho = downward
mukha = face
svana = dog
Downward-Facing Dog is an all-over, rejuvenating stretch.
Downward Facing Dog Benefits
• Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression
•Energizes the body
•Stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches, and hands
•Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause, moderates heavy menstrual flow
•Improves digestion and relieves chronic constipation
•Relieves headache, insomnia, lower back pain, and fatigue
•Therapeutic for high blood pressure, asthma, flat feet (by strengthening the arches of the feet), sciatica, sinusitis
•Reduces stiffness in shoulder blades and arthritis in shoulder joints, wrists and fingers.
•Helps prevent osteoporosis
•Relieves pain in the heels.
•Counters the damage to the cartilage of the knee or hamstring muscles caused by jogging, walking and other sports
• Carpal tunnel syndrome
•Pregnancy: Do not do this pose late-term.
• High blood pressure or headache: Support your head on a bolster or block, ears level between the arms.
•Prone to shoulder dislocations – ensure that the arms to not roll out.
Step by Step
1. Come onto the floor on your hands and knees into a table top position. Set your knees directly below your hips and your hands slightly forward of your shoulders, with the hands shoulder width apart or slightly wider. Spread your palms, wrists parallel to the edge of the mat and turn your toes under.
2. Exhale and lift your knees away from the floor. At first, keep the knees slightly bent and the heels lifted away from the floor. Feet are hip width or one foot apart. Feet and hands should be far enough apart to allow for an ideal 90 ° angle between the legs and the torso, forming an inverted “V”. Lengthen your tailbone away from the back of your pelvis and press it lightly toward the pubis. Against this resistance, lift the sitting bones toward the ceiling, and from your inner ankles draw the inner legs up into the groins.
3. Then with an exhalation, push your top thighs back and stretch your heels onto or down toward the floor. Straighten your knees but be sure not to lock them. Firm the outer thighs and roll the upper thighs inward slightly. Narrow the front of the pelvis.
4. Firm the outer arms and press the bases of the index fingers actively into the floor. From these two points lift along your inner arms from the wrists to the tops of the shoulders. Firm your shoulder blades against your back, then widen them and draw them toward the tailbone. In terms of placement of the head there are different schools of thought. Some say to keep the body in the two planes of an inverted “V”, keeping the head between the upper arms; don’t let it hang. Others emphasize not holding tension in the neck and to let the head hang loosely. Iyengar says to rest the crown of the head weightlessly on the floor if you can, using a block if necessary.
5. Adho Mukha Svanasana is one of the poses in the traditional Sun Salutation sequence. It’s also an excellent yoga asana all on its own. It can also be used as a resting pose. Stay in this pose anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes (Beginners’ 30 seconds). Then bend your knees to the floor with an exhalation and rest in Child’s Pose.
Variation: To challenge yourself in this pose, inhale and raise your right leg parallel to the line of your torso, and hold for 30 seconds, keeping the hips level and pressing through the grounded heel. Release with an exhalation and repeat on the left for the same length of time.
Beginner’s Tip: If you have difficulty releasing and opening your shoulders in this pose, raise your hands off the floor on a pair of blocks or the seat of a metal folding chair.
Deepen the Pose: To increase the stretch in the backs of the legs, lift slightly up onto the balls of the feet, pulling the heels a half-inch or so away from the floor. Then draw the inner groins deep into the pelvis, lifting actively from the inner heels. Finally, from the height of the groins, lengthen the heels back onto the floor, moving the outer heels faster than the inner.
Misalignments: The back may be rounded. The student should have the intention of trying to flatten the back, drawing the chest in the direction of the floor. Students tend to take too much weight in the shoulders, wrists and arms. The posture should be supported equally between the upper and lower extremities. To correct this, engage the muscles of the arms isometrically toward each other and draw the shoulders down the back, staying open between the neck and shoulders. Ground the index fingers and the thumbs to draw the weight out of the wrists and arms, shifting it more into the legs.
• Stand behind the student, place one foot in between the student’s feet to give yourself stability. Take your hands into the creases of the student’s hips and gently pull back at the same angle as the student’s torso. This will help shift the weight into their legs and out of their arms.
•Stand in front of the student and press gently with your hands into their shoulder blades, taking the weight out of their arms and into their legs. This will also help to deepen the posture.
•For students who are comfortable in this posture, stand in front of the student (facing away), place your hands out in front of you on the ground (shoulder width apart). One leg at a time, place your feet on the mid-section of the student’s back. Only shift as much weight out of your arms as the student can manage. You are eventually working towards a downward dog position yourself.