How to Achieve the Perfect Downward Dog (for Beginners, or fine-tuning)

Adho Mukha Svanasana. What a mouthful! Even the English translation – Downward Facing Dog – is quite a lot to say. This is probably one of the most widely recognised yoga poses, but despite the fact that it may look easy Downward Facing Dog is actually a complicated one to do correctly.

Downward Facing Dog works the entire body – it can build strength, increase flexibility, relieve back pain, and bring all the benefits of an inversion. At the same time, it also can be a huge source of frustration to many beginner yogis, up to the more advanced practitioner!

Benefits of Downward Facing Dog

Adho Mukha Svanasana not only offers visible changes in your body, it also makes you feel better which may lead to a better quality of life for you and the people around you. This pose delivers a full body stretch while at the same time lengthens and strengthens your bones and muscles.

Physical Benefits:

  • Improves blood circulation
  • Improves digestion
  • Relieves back pain
  • May relieve neck pain and/or migraines
  • Strengthens shoulders, back, arms and legs
  • Stretches spine, shoulders, back, arms, legs, hamstrings, calves, hands and feet
  • Tones stomach and arms
  • Increases bone density
  • Increases energy

Mental Benefits:

  • Reduces stress
  • Reduces anxiety
  • Can relieve insomnia
  • Shifts perspective as you literally see things upside down
  • Boosts your mood by bringing more oxygen to your brain
  • Increases and improves focus and awareness
  • Promotes patience
How to do Adho Mukha Svanasana for beginners

Step 1

Come onto the floor on your hands and knees. Set your knees directly below your hips and your hands slightly forward of your shoulders. Spread your palms, index fingers parallel or slightly turned out and turn your toes under.

Step 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. 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.

Step 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.

Step 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. Keep the head between the upper arms – don’t let it hang.

Step 5

Stay in this pose anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes. Then bend your knees to the floor with an exhalation and rest in Child’s Pose. Adho Mukha Svanasana is one of the poses in the traditional Sun Salutation sequence. It is also an excellent yoga asana all on its own.

Beginner Modifications for Downward Facing Dog

As with most yoga poses there are modifications you can take if you are a beginner, injured or pregnant. This pose should feel good – the aim is to feel a comfortable full body stretch so please follow these steps if needed.

  1. Use blocks underneath your hands to help support your wrists.
  2. Use a rolled-up mat underneath your heels to provide more support, if your heels are too lifted.
  3. Bend your knees as much as you need to. If you find that your hamstrings and calves are tight, bending your knees can help alleviate some of that strain.
  4. If you are pregnant and start to feel dizzy or lightheaded, drop into child’s pose with open knees and use a block underneath your chest or forehead to keep your belly lifted off the mat. ALWAYS consult with your doctor about how far into pregnancy Downward Facing Dog is safe for you and your baby.
  5. If your wrists hurt, put a rolled-up mat underneath the heels of your hand.
  6. If you are having pain in your wrists, try to come into dolphin: drop down to your forearms, leaving you tailbone high.
  7. If you’re feeling pinching or crunching in shoulders or neck, press your shoulders down and away from your ears as this will stretch your spine.

Last and most important tip – just do as much or as little as your body tells you and ALWAYS listen to your body! ~ Namaste.