Downward Facing Dog

Downward Facing Dog

Downward Facing Dog

down dog- view #1

A favorite pose in Vinyasa Flow practices.  This pose can be a resting pose or can be extremely challenging.  It is all in your intention.  This pose has a laundry list of alignment cues and I have tried to give you the “greatest hits” below.  If you experience pain or are truly not sure of your hand and foot position, speak with your teacher before class.  They will help you find the right spot for your arm, torso and leg length.

English:  Downward Facing Dog

Sanskirt:  Adho Mukha Svansasana

Physical Benefits:

  • stretches the back side of the body
  • strengthens hands, arms and upper body
  • opens the chest
  • improves breathing
  • lengthens the spine
  • increases circulation to the brain

Emotional Benefits:

  • relieves fatigue
  • relieves anxiety
  • releases trapped emotions in shoulders and chest
  • calming

How to Practice:

  • begin from hands and knees position
  • curl your toes and stretch your hips up to the sky
  • look at your hands– they should be shoulder distance apart, equidistant from the sides of your mat, fingers spread wide with pointer finger facing forward, take most of the weight to the thumb side of your hands
  • look at your feet– they should be hip bone distance apart (or wider), turned slightly in so you cannot see your heels, equidistant from the sides of your mat also, heels stretch toward the floor and toes lift off the floor
  • bend your knees slightly and tip your tailbone to the sky (dog tilt); this lengthens the low back and the hamstrings
  • press into your hands and turn your upper arms out so the “eyes (insides) of the elbows” are facing forward; you should feel your shoulders and upper back broaden
  • stretch the crown of your head to the space between your hands

There are of course many microadjustments you can continue to make in this pose.  Down dog will often feel different on any given day.  What you can do it this- One day focus on long spine; another day you focus on spiraling the arms out to open the shoulders, et cetera.  This practice done daily can do wonders for the central nervous system and your spirit.

down dog- view #2

If you have wrist pain, try walking your feet further back.  This will take more weight in the legs.  If that doesn’t work, place blocks under your hands shoulder distance apart and try down dog this way.  I found if I engage my shoulders to do more work, my wrists no longer bear so much weight and do not hurt.  One further option is to practice dolphin by placing forearms down instead of hands.

If your heels don’t touch the floor, take your feet wider apart and then stretch them toward the floor.  Heels never have to touch the floor in down dog.  Just energetically stretch them that way.

down dog- view #3

If you have a shoulder injury, try pushwall instead.  Pushwall is the same as down dog, however the hands are on the wall and the feel are on the floor.  Start with hands armpit height and then walk your feet back.  This was one of the best poses Brian did while healing his torn rotator cuff.  He used this in place of down dog for several months to return to his natural range of motion.


Elizabeth Delaney