Downward-facing dog, also known as Adho Mukha Svanasana in Sanskrit, is a staple pose in many yoga practices, from Vinyasa to Ashtanga, to Iyengar yoga.
It’s often used as a transition pose or a resting pose, but it’s much more than that.
Downward facing dog provides a plethora of benefits for the mind, body, and subtle body.
In this article, we’ll explore the many benefits of downward dog and why you should incorporate this asana into your yoga routine, whether in its traditional form or practicing any of its variations.
In this article you will find:
- Basics of Practicing Downward Dog
- Physical Benefits of Downward Dog
- Other Benefits of Downward Dog
- Tips for Practicing Downward Dog
- Making Downward Dog Accessible
- A Downward-Facing Dog Practice
Let’s dive right in.
Basics of Practicing Downward Dog
Adho Mukha Svanasana is categorized as a foundational yoga posture that is symmetrical since both sides of the body will be performing the same actions.
It is also considered an inversion since the head will be below the heart, and that in itself is one of the many benefits of downward dog.
When looking at the pose from a purely anatomical perspective, downward-facing dog is a pose that’s typically done on the ground, starting in a tabletop position with the hands and knees on the mat, building a strong base first.
From there, start to walk your hands forward, and establish a strong supportive grip, hasta bandha, to protect your wrists when practicing this asana, avoiding discomfort or pain. Take a deep inhale.
As you exhale, tuck your toes under, and start to lift your hips up and back towards the ceiling, creating an inverted V-shape with the body.
For some people, the knees will be bent, for some, they will be more extended.
Your feet can either be flat on the floor, with your heels aligned directly behind your toes, or lifted up, depending on your anatomy, flexibility, and other variables.
Physical Benefits of Downward Dog
The list of downward dog benefits for the physical body is extensive, but here we will share with you some of the main perks of practicing this yoga pose:
1# Stetches the entire body
One of the most significant benefits of downward facing dog is the way it stretches the entire body.
This pose stretches the hamstrings, calves, and Achilles tendons, all of which can become tight from sitting or standing for extended periods.
When practicing downward dog, you may feel the stretch from the backs of your legs all the way up through your spine and side body, which helps to release tension throughout the entire body.
2# Eases back pain and promotes good posture
Another one of the great benefits of downward dog is that it helps to release tension from the entire back as it lengthens the spine.
Many people spend their days hunched over a computer or phone, others commuting long hours, driving in a car or in public transport, causing their spine to round and compress.
Downward-facing dog encourages the spine to lengthen, which can alleviate back pain and promote better posture.
3# Strengthens the upper body
Downward facing dog is also an excellent pose for building strength, particularly in the upper body.
As you press your hands into the mat and you draw your shoulders away from your ears, the arms and shoulders are engaged, strengthening the muscles in the arms, shoulders, and chest.
4# Improves stability and balance
The core muscles also benefit from the practice of downward-facing dog.
As you breathe, holding your body in the inverted V-shape, your core muscles are engaged, helping you remain stable and to support the asana.
If you practice downward-facing dog regularly, this pose can lead to stronger core muscles, which can improve your overall stability and balance.
5# Full body strength building
In addition, the pose can be modified to add even more strength-building elements, adding to the many benefits of downward dog.
For example, instead of having the feet flat on the mat, you can explore lifting up onto the balls of your feet, which increases the engagement of the legs and core, ultimately strengthening your lower body.
For another lower body strengthening variation that also requires flexibility, try the variation known as three-legged downward-facing dog or downward dog split.
Mental + Energetic Benefits of Downward Dog
Along with the physical benefits of downward dog, there are many mental and energetic benefits to be gained from this posture.
6# Calms the mind
The pose is often used as a grounding pose, which helps to calm the mind and promote relaxation.
7# Boosts mental clarity and focus
The inversion of the pose, where the head is below the heart, encourages blood flow to the brain, which can improve mental clarity and focus, helping you be more productive and present throughout your day.
8# Supports the digestive system
Another of the benefits of downward dog is its ability to improve digestion.
As the head is lowered and you lift your hips up, gravity helps to move waste (ama) through the digestive system. This can help alleviate constipation and improve overall gut health.
9# Regulates the nervous system
One of the most significant benefits of this pose is its ability to calm the mind and reduce stress.
The pose encourages deep breathing, which helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of your nervous system responsible for relaxation and rest.
When you choose to practice downward-facing dog regularly, it can help you reduce stress and anxiety, leading to improved mental health.
10# Alleviates tension headaches and migraines
Additional to these downward dog benefits, the pose can be therapeutic for those with tension headaches or migraines.
As the head is lowered, the blood flow to the head is increased, which can alleviate headaches and promote better sleep.
Tips for Practicing Downward Dog
Despite the numerous benefits of downward-facing dog, it is essential to practice the pose safely and correctly, in a way that works for your body and your unique needs.
Here are some general tips for a safe and effective downward-facing dog, but keep in mind that not all these tips will work for everyone:
- Start in a tabletop position with your hands about shoulder-width apart and your knees hips-distance apart, bringing some cushioning underneath for added support, if you’d like.
- Press your palms and fingers into the mat, spreading the fingers apart to create a stable foundation (hasta bandha) to reduce wrist pain.
- Engage the arms and shoulders to draw the shoulder blades down the back and away from the ears, releasing tension from your shoulders, upper back, and cervical spine.
- Draw the hips back towards the knees, creating an inverted V-shape with the body, and keep your knees bent if that provides you with more space to breathe and explore the posture.
- Whether your heels touch the floor or not in this posture, press your heels down. You can always slide a blanket under your heels to fill the gap.
- Keep the neck long and relaxed, letting the head hang freely to release neck tension.
- Stay in the pose for 5-10 deep breaths before releasing to maximize the benefits.
If you’d like to get a visual and some more tips, check out this short tutorial with Esther Ekhart in this video.
Making Downward Dog Accessible
As mentioned before in this article, downward facing dog is considered a foundational asana, however, in itself, it is not an accessible posture for everyone.
In order for all individuals to be able to access the benefits of downward facing dog, it is important for both practitioners and yoga instructors to recognize that there are many creative ways to adapt the practice, including this highly beneficial asana.
Using props like blocks, bolsters, chairs, and others is one of the quickest ways to adapt the shape.
If you want to know more about downward dog variations and how to make the posture more accessible, check out this article.
A Downward-Facing Dog Practice
Talking about the benefits and how to practice this posture is great, but if you’re ready to reap the benefits of downward dog, try a free youtube practice!
We invite you to try this class with Jessica Richburg, where you’ll have time to warm up the body before spending some time flowing through a mobility flow where you’ll experience the benefits of downward dog combined with other postures.
Downward-facing dog is a pose that has many benefits for your mind, body, and soul, and for your overall health.
It’s an excellent pose for stretching the entire body, promoting strength-building, improving your digestion, and it has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety.
It is important to practice the pose safely and correctly to reap the benefits of downward dog.
Incorporating downward-facing dog into your yoga routine can lead to improved physical and mental health, making it a valuable addition to anyone’s daily practice.
To learn more about foundational and common yoga poses for beginners and their benefits, check out this article next.