The downward-facing dog is a yoga posture commonly practiced in modern yoga asana styles around the world, and there are many ways to learn downward dogs for beginners so that you can establish a good foundation.
Although it is considered a basic posture, it is not, in itself, a very accessible shape since it requires strength and flexibility. It is sometimes classified as a beginner pose, or sometimes even as a resting posture, but for many, it is quite challenging!
We want to provide you with different suggestions on how to approach a downward dog for beginners and make it accessible to your body and its needs.
There are several ways to access, practice, and adapt downward dog for beginners and for those wanting to explore different ways to explore the posture.
Continue reading to learn more about:
- Meaning and Origins of Downward Facing Dog
- Benefits of Downward Dog for Beginners
- Basics of Downward Dog for Beginners
- Downward Dog Beginner Variations
- Beginner Downward Dog Tutorial Video
- Common Mistakes to Avoid in Downward Dog for Beginners
Meaning and Origins of Downward Facing Dog
Downward facing dog, or downward dog (which translates from the Sanskrit Adho Mukha Svanasana) is a popular yoga pose that you will often see in classes like Ashtanga yoga, vinyasa, hatha, power, and other vigorous styles of yoga.
This yoga asana was first incorporated by Swami Kuvalayananda into his system of exercises in the early 1930s.
These are some of the main teachers that brought yoga to the West, and since the downward dog is a posture that activates the entire body, it is included in many yoga sequences, ranging from Vinyasa and Ashtanga yoga classes to Hatha and Kundalini.
Benefits of Downward Dog for Beginners
Downward dog practiced in its traditional form, as well as many of its variations and adaptations, has many benefits for the physical body, the mind, and the subtle body.Here are some of the main benefits that you can experience when you begin to practice Adho Mukha Svanasana:
- Energizes the entire body
- Promotes upper body strength
- Supports bone density
- Boosts circulation
- Stretches the arms, shoulders, back, and back of the legs
- Helps us shift perspective
- Eliminates physical, mental and energetic stiffness
Basics of Downward Dog for Beginners
Downward dog is considered a symmetrical yoga posture since both sides of the body, right and left, are performing the same actions.
It is classified as a mild inversion because the head is below the heart, increasing blood flow to the brain.
Your beginner downward dog is one of the foundational yoga postures included in many set sequences like the Ashtanga Series and the Sun Salutation sequences, and you’ll often see it in creative and free-flow classes like Vinyasa Flow as well.
Adho Mukha Svanasana serves both as a stretching and strengthening yoga shape, which makes it very versatile.
If you have never tried this posture or have only done it a few times and you’d like to give it a try, follow these steps to practice:
1# Bring yourself into tabletop position
2# Walk your hands a little bit forward and establish your hand grip, hasta bandha
3# Tuck your toes under, and keeping your knees really bent, start to lift your knees and hips up
4# Extend through your arms, keeping the weight distributed evenly between both hands and both feet
5# Lengthen from your fingertips to your sitting bones, bring your head right between your forearms, and keep your neck somewhat relaxed
6# Notice here if you’d rather keep your knees bent or extend them as little or as much as feels good for you
7# Take a few breaths in the shape and then come back down to the tabletop position or child’s pose to relax
Downward Dog Beginner variations
1# Anahatasana (Puppy Pose)
If lifting your knees from the ground isn’t available to you or your wrists feel sensitive, consider practicing this option, since it will still provide a great amount of extension of the arms and torso, all the way up to the hips. This will help to lower the intensity.
2# Catur Svanasana (Dolphin Pose)
To take care of the wrists, you can also practice dolphin pose instead of downward facing dog. In Dolphin pose, however, a bit more strain is placed on the forearms and shoulders, so keep that in mind as well.
3# Bharmanasana (Table Top Position)
Again, to keep the intensity a little lower and to make the shape more stable, this is another great alternative. In tabletop, you can also choose to keep your wrists uninvolved by making fists instead of placing your hands flat on the ground.
4# Downward Dog with a Blanket under the Heels
If your heels do not reach the floor in downward dog, which is very common for both beginners and advanced asana practitioners alike, consider grabbing a blanket or towel and folding until it is thick enough to mind the gap between your heels and your yoga mat.
5# Downward Dog Using a Chair
For those who do not want to get on the ground, experimenting the practice of downward dog for beginners with a chair can be quite fun. It implies simply shifting the plane of movement, and creating access into the posture in a different way.
6# Downward Dog Using A Wall
Another prop you can use and one that is often readily available is a wall.
Once again shifting the plane of movement, bring your hands onto the wall, and keep your feet planted on the ground. Avoiding being upside down can be helpful for people with high blood pressure.
It gives you more options if you would like to practice the asana but have limitations.
Beginner Downward Dog Tutorial Video
If you’re a visual learner and would like to experience and hear the cues for how to practice this foundational yoga posture, watch this video, made especially to explain the asana for beginners.
Common Mistakes to Avoid in Downward Dog for Beginners
1# Dumping into the wrists
When you first begin practicing downward dog, notice if you have a tendency to put all of your weight toward the heel of the hand, creating pressure on your wrists.
Work on shifting the weight toward the knuckles and fingertips, evenly distributing the weight across the whole hand.
2# Rounding your back
If you find your upper back and shoulders tense and rounded, consider bending your knees; as you release sensation on the hamstrings, you make a bit more space for your spine to lengthen, releasing any deep rounding and making more space for your neck and shoulders.
3# Making the stance too narrow
A common mistake that can create tension in the posture instead of balance is making the distance between the foot and hand placement too narrow. This happens often when the practitioner wants to get their heels to touch the ground.
Keep in mind that that’s not as important as you may think. Widen the stance and notice what happens.
4# Inward rotation of your arms
Depending on the strength and flexibility in your shoulders, sometimes there might be a tendency to internally rotate the arms, which creates tension in the upper back and shoulders.
Practice facing your middle finger forward as you place your hands on the ground and rotate your inner elbows in the same direction, relaxing your shoulders away from your ears.
5# Flexing your neck
To make sure that you don’t bring unnecessary strain to your neck, notice if you have a tendency to look forward, flexing the cervical spine.
Instead, try bringing your ears right between your biceps, and gaze more toward your thighs or even your belly button.
#6 Hyperextending your knees
If you look at a picture of a person practicing downward-facing dog posture, you may notice that their legs seem quite straight and may attempt to practice it in that way yourself.
However, downward dog for beginners, as well as for advanced practitioners, can be practiced quite comfortably with the knees bent at any degree.
Even when choosing to extend the legs, it is advisable to keep a micro-bend on the knees, in order to reduce unnecessary strain from the joints, especially if you have a tendency toward hypermobility.
Even though this posture is practiced in many of the yoga classes that you can find at your local yoga studio, it is an asana that requires strength and flexibility.
Teachers often give options of downward dog for beginners and for different accessibility needs, and there are many variations that practitioners can incorporate into their practice to make this posture fit them.
With the use of props and creativity, you can find your own way to practice this posture and reap the many benefits that downward-facing dog has for body, mind, and spirit.
For more on yoga poses for beginners, check out this article.