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.