What is Adho Mukha Svanasana?
A beginner-level posture, Adho Mukha Svanasana, known as Downward-facing Dog pose, is a part of the Surya Namaskar series. This yoga pose is also a transition pose between many poses. It is a mild inversion which encourages blood flow to the brain and relaxes the back. It also works as an effective hamstring stretch.
Position type: Standing
Posture type: Inversion
Ideal for: Flexibility and strength
Targets: Hamstrings and back
Pose level: Beginner
How to prepare for Adho Mukha Svanasana?
Doing a few gentle hamstring stretches will help with the Downward-facing Dog pose. Regular practice of postures such as the standing forward fold, triangle pose, high lunge and low lunge, and hip openers like bound angle pose, garland pose, bow pose and pigeon pose are helpful. For some, placing the foot flat on the mat might be a challenge. So stretching the hamstrings will help.
Work on back flexibility with postures such as the cobra pose, locust pose, camel pose and standing forward fold. As back flexibility gets better, alignment in the posture will be better and you will find that lengthening the back is not too much of a challenge.
How to do Adho Mukha Svanasana
Getting into the posture
- Come onto all fours with the hips above the knees and shoulders above the wrists.
- Bring the hands slightly ahead of the shoulders with the middle finger pointing forward and finger spread.
- Tuck your toes and as you exhale, engage the core and press the hands down lifting the hips back and up to bring yourself into an inverted V-shape.
- Adjust the length of the spine and slowly straighten the knees and bring feet flat on the mat. You can alternately peddle the feet on the mat until it is possible to keep them flat on the mat.
- The shoulder blades should remain inline with the back and neck relaxed.
Getting out of the posture
- After staying in the posture for a few deep breaths, slowly bring the knees back down to the floor. Relax the hands and come into child’s pose.
Key Alignments in Downward-facing dog pose
- Ensure the spine remains straight inline with the shoulders. Avoid rounding the back or creating a curve.
- If you find it hard to place the heels on the mat, peddle the feet or stay on the toes. But do not force the heels down such that you compromise on keeping the back straight.
What are the benefits of Adho Mukha Svanasana?
A mild inversion, downward-facing dog pose encourages blood circulation to the brain. It strengthens the whole body, especially the arms, shoulders, back, hips, thighs, calves and ankles. It stretches the hamstrings and improves flexibility and mobility in the hips and lower back. It has a calming effect on the mind and helps relieve headaches. The posture acts as a transition pose as well as a resting pose between backbends and forward bends, and during the Ashtanga Surya Namaskar A and B.
What are the contraindications of Adho Mukha Svanasana?
Anyone suffering from recent injuries to the back, hips, arms, shoulders or legs should avoid the posture. It is also not advisable for anyone with high blood pressure, vertigo and heart diseases. If you have had a recent wrist injury or have carpal tunnel syndrome, avoid the posture.
What are the counterposes for Downward-facing dog pose?
Rest in child’s pose for a few minutes or follow up the posture with Ashwa Sanchalanasana or Urdhva Mukha Svanasana if practiced as a transition pose.
Variations of Downward-facing dog pose
- A simple variation is only placing the toes on the mat and keeping the heels up if flexibility is less.
- A challenging version is the three-legged dog variation where you can lift one leg up by keeping the hips leveled.
Advice for beginners
- Keep the palms firmly pressed down as this will protect the wrists.
- Ensure your shoulders are not hunching but pushed back from the ears. Keep the base of the neck relaxed.
- Ensure there is length in the spine. In the beginning if you have to bend your knees a little or keep the heels up, that’s allowed. But the spine should remain straight.
- Keep your awareness on the back and hips. Do not force yourself to stretch any part. Stay relaxed and slowly, slowly work on improving flexibility.
- Practice under the guidance of a certified teacher to ensure you avoid crucial mistakes and are able to do the posture correctly.