Instructor: Sarah N.
Sarah has completed an intensive yoga teacher training program in Pune, India at the BKS Iyengar Yoga Institute. She has been inspired to continue practicing yoga for life.

Downward Dog Pose: Step-by-Step Instructions


One of the first yoga poses that everyone learns, Adho Mukha Svanasana gives you a deep, full-body stretch. This is a restorative pose that is excellent to rest in after you perform challenging postures.

Step by Step Pose Information Benefits Variations

Adho Mukha Shvanasana

(Pronounced as "ah-DOH moo-kah SHVAH-NAHS-anna")

When you break down the Sanskrit words, adho is "downward," mukha means "facing" and shvana is the word for "dog." In this stretch, you bow down with humility the same way that a dog would.

How to do Downward Dog Pose

Step One

Lie down on your yoga mat on your belly. Keep your feet one-foot's width apart and turn your toes underneath you. Press your palms on the floor by the sides of your chest. Spread your fingers and point them straight ahead.

Step Two

Inhale. Now on your exhalation, lift your body up into Plank Pose with straight arms and legs. Check that your hands are right below your shoulders.

Take another breath and use your thigh muscles to raise your hips up as high in the air as you can. Both your tail bone and sitting bones should reach back and up to the ceiling, lengthening your entire spine. Your arms remain straight and support you as your head faces down.

Step Three

Keep breathing normally. Push yourself back firmly on your legs, trying to put your heels down on the floor or at least close to it. Do not lock your knees, but do keep them constantly straight so that your thighs stay active. Turn your toes slightly in so that the outside edges of your feet are parallel, which helps the thighs turn in to give you better alignment.

Step Four

As your tailbone continues to extend up, press back with your arms to bring your head down further. Try to rest the crown of your head on the floor or at least bring your head as close to the floor as your can. Do not let too much weight fall to the pinky-finger sides of your hands. Push down on your index fingers to distribute your weight evenly and activate your inner arms also. Let your armpits open and expand, which gives more space for your shoulder blades to tuck into your back.

Step Five

Most people practice Adho Mukha Shvanasana during the traditional Sun Salutation yoga sequence. If you practice this pose on its own, then you can hold it for 30 seconds when you first learn it. Hold it for a minute or longer as your stamina increases. When you are ready to come out of the pose, exhale as you bend your knees and relax in Child's Pose.

Beginner's Tip:

If your shoulders are very stiff, then you can lay two yoga blocks down on the floor, bracing the blocks against a wall for extra support. Press your palms into the blocks, which create a platform for your hands of about 2 to 3 inches above the floor.

Downward Dog Pose Information

Sanskrit Name:

Adho Mukha Shvanasana

Pose Level:

Level 1

Contraindications and Cautions:

  • Fever
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome or wrist injuries
  • Diarrhea or irregular bowel movements
  • If you are pregnant and do not have a history of miscarriages, then you can do Downward-Dog Pose during the first three months of pregnancy.
  • If you have high blood pressure or a headache, then support your head on a bolster or yoga block.

Modifications and Props:

To train your outer arms to become more active in this pose, make a loop with a yoga belt that is just the right size to prevent your upper arms from spreading farther than your shoulder width apart. When you practice with the belt on your arms right above your elbows, press your arms against the resistance of the belt to engage your shoulder blades and outer arms more.

Deepen the Pose:

Do the following variation to increase the release more muscle tension in the backs of your legs:

Perform the full Downward-Dog Pose. Now bend your right knee without moving your foot off of the floor. Shift your weight more to your left foot. Press back hard with your right hand to push your left heel down onto the yoga mat. Hold the left heel down and take a few breaths. Now do the same on the opposite side. Straighten your right leg, shift your weight to your right with the left knee bent as you press your right heel down into the mat. Keep alternating between the right and left sides several times.

Benefits:

  • Calms the mind.
  • Helps relieve fatigue.
  • Opens the shoulders while stretching the hamstrings, calves, arches and heels.
  • Builds strength in the arms and legs.
  • Soothes the nervous system for women during menstruation as long as they do not perform it during the days of their heaviest flow. Menstruating women and women going through menopause should take care to expand their chest more in the posture, resting the head up on a thick bolster or two folded yoga blankets.
  • Helps to alleviate headaches.
  • Reduces chronic back pain.
  • Therapeutic for those with high blood pressure and sciatica.

Downward Dog Pose Variations

To take this pose even further, you can perform Eka Pada Adho Mukha Shvanasana, which is one-legged Downward-Dog Pose. After you do a full Downward-Dog Pose, inhale and raise your right leg up behind you, pointing the heel. Try to lift your leg up until it forms a straight line with your torso. Keep both legs straight. Try to hold your leg up for 30 seconds while breathing normally. Exhale as you lower the leg. Repeat this pose with the left leg, holding it up for the same amount of time.

Partnering:

In order to get your thighs working correctly and release your lower back, ask a partner to help you. After you get into the full Downward-Dog Pose, have your partner stand behind you with a yoga belt. They should place the belt under the very tops of your thighs and hold one end of the belt in each of their hands. Then your partner should pull on the belt to bring your legs back more. Have them pull in the same direction as your spine, slightly lifting and going back at the same time.

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