From the very first time you step on a yoga mat, Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) will be a pose you find yourself in very frequently. Whether you love or hate this pose, it has numerous benefits for everyone from the absolute beginner to the advanced yogi.
While at first it may seem like Downward Facing Dog is merely a transition pose often practiced within a Sun Salutation, it actually has many therapeutic benefits all of its own.
Some poses are more commonly known for either their strength building capacity or for the flexibility they encourage in the body. Downward Facing Dog, however, does both.
This pose creates an intense stretch through the back of the legs, particularly through the thighs, calves and ankles. It also builds strength and heat through the hands, wrists, arms, and shoulders, as the upper body works to press the torso towards the legs.
The head travels below the rest of the body in this pose, which means it allows us to access all the benefits of inverting without the fear of falling. Fresh oxygenated blood is brought into the head to help refresh energy and help to stimulate the various organ systems of the body.
This means a quick Downward Facing Dog can be the perfect cure for that 3pm slump!
Downward Facing Dog encourages opening through the chest and shoulders, which helps reduce the rounded upper body we often get from too many hours at a computer or desk.
Alignment of the upper body and core is often described during the teaching of Downward Facing Dog and this awareness can help you to remember to practice good posture for hours afterwards.
Accessible to All Levels
Downward Facing Dog is accessible to all levels, especially when you consider the range of modifications that can be made.
For those with extremely tight hamstrings, the knees can be kept as bent as you need and a block can be placed under the heels to further reduce the stretch.
If you don’t have a block to use you could practice with your heels against a wall to help lift those heels up.
If weak wrists are a problem it can be helpful to practice with the palm of the hands on the edge of a rolled blanket to reduce the angle that wrist has to bend. Or you could practice a Dolphin variation on the forearms instead.
Pregnant women, especially in the final trimester, may like to practice Downward Facing Dog with the hands on the back of a chair or a wall to lesson their likelihood of experiencing dizziness due to blood pressure changes.
Let it also be known that Downward Facing Dog is far from a basic beginner's pose -- there is always something to learn each time you assume this position.
Whether it be the way this pose gives us time to refocus on the breath and the happenings of the mind, or the way it allows us to take an overall scan of the body to connect with how we are truly feeling at any given moment, this pose always has something to offer.
Advanced yogis may like to progress their practice with variations of this pose. One-Legged Dog can challenge balance and core muscles by lifting one leg towards the sky, or you can work into the hips as well by bending the knee and opening it over to the opposite side. Alternatively, twisting benefits can be gained by reaching one hand towards the opposite leg and looking through the armpit on that side.
So if you’ve been practicing yoga for a while now, and were beginning to think Downward Facing Dog was a pose you’ve already mastered, perhaps it’s time you come back to this foundation pose and explore it from a whole new perspective. You never know what you might learn!
What benefits have you found from practicing Down Dog? Share with us in the comments below!