There’s no other pose that’s more strongly associated to modern yoga as Downward Facing Dog, aka Adho Mukha Śvānāsana in Sanskrit. So recognisable that it’s often the asana of choice to illustrate or accompany yoga-related features and promotions.
Commonly referred to in short as ‘Downward Dog’ too, it’s obvious that the name of the asana (Sanskrit word for pose) comes from its shape, which resembles the action a dog getting up to stretch out across the torso from lying down.
So widely practised that it’s almost inevitable for any practitioner to encounter this pose in a hatha yoga, especially Flow or Vinyasa style classes. The pose itself sits within the family of inversion and is considered one of the more accessible option within this category. In flow-style practices, it’s often thought of as neutralising; a restorative posture slotted between dynamic, moving sequences to give practitioners a moment to recalibrate and reset.
isn’t to attain shapes, it’s to cultivate awareness in body and mind, so the aim is to feel and connect with the sensations that the pose offers.
To counteract any tightness across the back, bend the knees, softly like in #2 or more deeply like in #3, but keeping the hips at the highest point. Lightly draw navel to spine to keep sit-bones up and lengthen out the lower back. By driving the heels towards the earth, strength is activated across the legs – fine if heels reach the mat like #1, otherwise just let them hover like #2 or #3 with knees bent.
Another common mistake is to dump the weight into the shoulders and often, this is done even without the person being aware. They are holding up without channelling any energy through the body, simply sinking into the pose. Over-time, a strain to the shoulders begin to emerge.
Spread out the fingers, ground through knuckles and heels of the palm to engage the muscles in the arms, and actively push away from the mat so it feels like you’re lengthening from the wrists to the shoulders and across the torso to the waist. Allow the neck to hang gently towards the ground. These adjustments should also bring a feeling of space across the chest and upper back.
A pose that appears simple but is full of nuanced complexities to perform., it offers strengthening and stretch qualities throughout the body but requires a fine balance of effort between arms, torso and legs so we don’t find ourselves burdening an area more than the other. Once you activate and direct your energies effectively, the pose will bring a feeling of length and lightness. As a gentle inversion, it supports circulation and activates parasympathetic nervous system, to bring a calming, relieving quality.
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Hongyi the yogi
Full-time yoga teacher & trainee yoga therapist in London. Eager to share, eager to learn!