Adho mukha svanasana (downward-facing dog)

Adho mukha svanasana. What a mouth­ful. Let’s go with the eng­lish trans­la­tion you’ve all no doubt heard of, down­ward-fac­ing dog. Down dog is one of the most wide­ly rec­og­nized yoga pos­tures, but it’s also a com­pli­cat­ed one. Down dog works the whole body, and can build strength, increase flex­i­bil­i­ty, relieve back pain, and bring all the ben­e­fits of an inver­sion. It also can be a huge source of frus­tra­tion to many begin­ners or yogis in larg­er bod­ies.

Start on hands and knees. The knees should be direct­ly under the hips, the low­er legs point­ing straight back from the knees, necks of feet on the floor. Let the hands be shoul­der width apart. The wrists should be slight­ly in front of the shoul­ders. Let the index fin­gers point straight ahead at 12 o’clock. Press firm­ly through the hands, espe­cial­ly through the thumb and index fin­ger.

Take a look at the eyes of your elbows (the insid­es or creas­es of the elbows). Let each elbow eye face the oppo­site cor­ner of the mat.  So your right elbow eye faces the left cor­ner of the mat, and the left elbow eye faces the right cor­ner. You prob­a­bly will have to rotate your upper arms to accom­plish this, but let your hands stay con­nect­ed to the mat.

To feel this exter­nal rota­tion in your upper arms, come out of the pose for a moment, and bring your arms out to your sides at shoul­der height, like an air­plane. Let your palms and the eyes of your elbows face the ceil­ing. Now flip your hands over so your palms face the floor, but the elbow eyes still face the ceil­ing. This is the rota­tion of the arms we’re look­ing for in down dog. Now come back to the mat, and re-setup your hands. Point your elbow eyes to the oppo­site cor­ners of the mat by exter­nal­ly rotat­ing your upper arms. This will broad­en the col­lar­bones and draws the shoul­der blades down the back.

Now we’ll pre­pare to lift up. Engage the low­er bel­ly by draw­ing in the trans­verse abs – the pit of the abdomen – engage the low­er bel­ly and draw it in and up as if you were scoop­ing your low­er bel­ly up along your spine. Take sev­er­al full breaths. Now tuck the toes and start to lift the hips up toward where the ceil­ing meets the wall.

Ped­al a few times through the feet, alter­nate­ly bend­ing and straight­en­ing the legs. Let the arms be long, let the neck be long with the rest of the spine. Keep a gen­tle bend in the knees and make the spine as long as pos­si­ble, from the neck all the way to the tail­bone. Think about scoop­ing the tail­bone toward the heels and bring­ing length through the sides of the waist.

Check in with all the upper body setup – are your hands pressed down, espe­cial­ly through the index and thumb? Are the eyes of your elbows fac­ing the oppo­site cor­ners of the mat? Are your shoul­ders away from your ears? Is your col­lar­bone broad?

Hold down­ward fac­ing dog for 2–3 breaths, then float the knees to the mat and rest in child’s pose or pup­py pose for a few breaths. Repeat this setup and take down dog sev­er­al more times to build strength and flex­i­bil­i­ty.

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