Here’s everything you need to know about the downward-facing dog or adho mukha svanasana



Taking a yoga class for the first time? As a newbie, you probably have a lot to know about yoga. Basically, it is a meditative exercise that involves many styles and variations. One of the things that yoga is known for is the execution of yoga poses. There are so many of them that you might feel a tad bit overwhelmed. Not to worry though, learning and memorizing all the poses take time and consistent yoga practice. You’ll eventually get the hang of it!

To help you begin, this article will tell you all about one particular yoga pose—the downward dog. We have featured the Downward-Facing Dog along with other basic yoga poses.

What is the downward-facing dog pose?

The downward-facing dog or also known as the adho mukha svanasana is a type of inversion asana that is usually included in a sequence of poses like the Sun Salutation. This is named after how we stretch our hands and feet as dogs do. This pose actually has so many variants and modifications to cater to the capabilities of beginner yoga students and practitioners. This pose is a follow-up to the yoga Tree Pose.

What are the benefits of a downward-facing dog?

Like many other yoga poses, the downward-facing dog has so many benefits to the body. It’s amazing that by doing this simple move, you can already get a lot out of it. By knowing what this does to your body, you’ll be even more motivated to do it regularly.

It strengthens and tones your legs

As you can see in the picture, the downward dog requires the engagement of your legs. By doing so, it will tone and strengthen them. You will feel some stress on your legs as you do the pose but isn’t it more rewarding to achieve something you worked hard for?

It opens and strengthens the shoulders

Stretching and strengthening the muscles on your shoulders enables you to restore your range of motion. It also reduces the risk of injuries and having shoulder pain (especially if you always work on a desk for a whole day).

Stretches the calves and lengthens the hamstrings

Doing the downward dog helps stretch the calves of your feet and it also lengthens your hamstrings. Take note that calf strength is crucial in athletes or people who are physically active, especially runners. Meanwhile, our hamstrings often carry a lot of tension so it would be good to lengthen them. This will also help protect you from lower back pain or injury.

How to do the downward-facing dog pose

Now let’s get to the bottom of this (well the yoga mat, at least) and find out how to do the downward-facing dog pose or adho mukha svanasana. Fortunately for you, we have laid out a step by step directions that you can easily follow:

Step 1

Go on all fours on the mat where your hands and knees are on it. Your hands should be a few inches ahead of your shoulders and should have a shoulder-width distance from each other. Keep the creases of both your wrists aligned and spread your fingers.

Step 2

Push your forearms toward the front of the floor by pressing firmly on your fingertips. Make sure that your knuckles are grounded toward the floor as you do it. Your biceps must be facing forward while your triceps are facing your midline. Make sure that both your arms are lengthened and straight.

Step 3

Inhale as you tuck your toes under and press your hips back and slowly lift it. Make sure that you straighten your legs, as long as you can do it. Also, keep the heels of your feet planted on the mat.

Step 4

Make sure that your feet are parallel and hip-width apart from each other. By now, your legs should be forming an inverted “v” shape.

Step 5

Allow your head to hang freely to avoid any possible tension in the neck. Just keep your gaze toward your feet.

Step 6

Let your shoulder blades turn away from your spine and toward your outer armpits. This is a form of upward rotation that will help maintain the articulation of your shoulders’ bones.

Step 7

If your lower back feels stressed or uncomfortable, you can always adjust your position like bending your knees a little.

Step 8

Hold the position for a few breaths up to a few minutes. For every inhalation, press your hips back and lift it even more. As you exhale every time, root down through your hands.

Preparatory and follow-up poses

There are some yoga poses to do before and after the downward-facing dog. Preparatory poses could be the plank pose and the standing forward bend pose. As for the follow-up poses which would be done after you execute the downward dog, you can try the standing poses, headstand, and also the standing forward bend pose again.

What are the different variations of the downward-facing dog?

As you can see, yoga is quite a diverse type of workout and that also includes its poses. The downward-facing dog is not a single-faced pose, it actually has a lot of versions to it that caters to the different capabilities of yoga practitioners. Not all yoga students can do its original version perfectly which is why these variations have been developed.

Puppy Dog

To practice this pose, you will be needing a wall next to you. Place both of your hands on the wall with the creases of your wrists aligned horizontally and your index fingers pointed up. Take a few steps back until your arms and torso are straight and parallel to the floor. Make sure that your feet are a hip-width distance apart from each other. Connect yourself to the wall by firmly pressing on each hand as you push your hips further away from the wall.

Block Party

This variation requires the use of a yoga prop, the blocks. Begin by placing two blocks on the floor in front of you. The pair of blocks must be parallel and shoulder-width apart. Go to an all-fours position with your hands on top of the blocks and your hips over your knees. You can adjust the placement of your blocks to keep them an inch or so ahead of your shoulders. Once your hands are set, put a hip-width distance between your feet and straighten your legs as you lift your hips.

Full Dog

This is the type of downward-facing dog that we had given you the step-by-step instructions on how to do it. It’s the original and complete version of the pose wherein your hands are actually meant to touch the floor while your hips are way up in the sky.

How can you modify the downward dog pose?

Besides the versions mentioned above, there are other ways to adapt the pose to your capability. If you are a beginner and you find it difficult to execute the full dog, you can modify the pose to these styles:

Bent Knee Downward Dog

As mentioned earlier, if you have trouble straightening your legs in the pose, you can always opt for this version. It would be particularly helpful to bend your knees a little if you feel like your thighs or hamstrings are tight or if you have low back pain.

Downward Dog On The Chair

If there’s a wall, there’s also a chair. You can also get support from a strong and sturdy object like a chair as you do the pose. Try holding on to it and even bend your knees as you do the downward dog like a pro.

Are you ready to try the downward-facing dog pose?

Now that you know all about the adho mukha svanasana or the downward dog, isn’t it time for you to add it to your yoga workout routine? The benefits of downward facing dog to your whole body will effectively improve your health. If this is your first time venturing into the world of yoga, you should expect that you will be encountering this pose a lot in your yoga classes in Singapore. The downward-facing dog is a good pose for beginners to try and it will certainly make you stronger and more flexible!

About the Author​

Lynette is fully dedicated to the support and empowerment of the growing community of committed yoga students and teachers. As one of the Lead Instructors for Yoga Teacher Training, she is here to share tips on how to grow your profile as a yoga teacher or build a yoga business either physically or digitally.