Downward dog is one of the most popular and iconic yoga postures that you will most likely find in hatha-style classes.
Whether you’re an avid asana practitioner or you’re starting on your yoga journey, in this article we will share with you 15 downward dog variations to explore, giving you new ways to practice this yoga pose.
In this article we will discuss:
- Main benefits of the downward dog pose
- Reasons to try downward dog variations
- 5 Downward dog variations with props
- 10 Downward dog variations to mix it up
- A class on downward dog variations
Main benefits of the downward dog pose
There are many reasons why this asana is so popular and it is practiced across yoga styles including hatha, vinyasa, ashtanga, and power yoga, to name just a few.
Downward facing dog, Adho Mukha Svanasana in Sanskrit, is a stabilizing, symmetrical yoga pose with many benefits. Since the head is below the hips, downward dog is considered an inverted posture, and you can expect to reap more of them as you start to introduce this yoga posture into your practice regularly.
Some of the main benefits of the downward dog pose are:
- Strengthens the shoulders, arms, and shoulders
- Increases finger, hand, and wrist strength and stability
- Elongates the spine
- Opens up the back of the legs
- Stretches and strengthens the ankles and feet
- Relieves tension from the neck and upper back
- Improves circulation
- Alleviates stress and anxiety
- Energizes the body and mind
- Can help release fogginess and mental tension
- Increases brain function
Reasons to try downward dog variations
Although the downward-facing dog is a very common yoga posture included in a wide range of yoga styles and practices, it is important to understand that not all postures are accessible for all practitioners and that in itself is a reason to try downward dog variations.
Here are some more:
- Adapting the practice to a variety of physical needs
- Decreasing intensity while in the yoga asana
- Increasing sensation or intensity while in the asana
- Keeping the practice fresh by trying something new
- Challenging the body and mind
- Finding the alignment that works best for you
- For those with reduced mobility
There are many other reasons to try out downward dog variations, consider yours, or if you’re a teacher, keep in mind what could benefit your community.
5 Downward dog variations with props
Using props is one of the best ways to make the yoga practice more accessible and adapt the postures to individual needs.
Here are some downward dog variations with blocks, blankets, a chair, and even using the wall.
1# Downward dog with a blanket under the heels
For those with shorter or tighter hamstrings, bringing the heels to the floor in Adho Mukha Svanasana can be uncomfortable, or not possible.
To salvage the gap between your mat and your heels, grab a blanket, fold it, and place it there, allowing you to make the shape a little less intense.
2# Downward Dog with the hands on yoga blocks
If your wrists are sensitive or painful, grab some regular blocks and place them under your hands, or if you’d like to invest in a specific prop to support sensitive wrists, check out these yoga wedges.
3# Downward Dog with Block Between the Thighs
When practicing downward-facing dog, the hips, knees, and heels should be in alignment to promote stability in the legs.If you want to work on achieving that and to also engage your legs a bit more, bring a block between your thighs and squeeze it gently.
4# Downward dog with hands on a chair
For those enjoying chair yoga practices but wanting to stand, you can try practicing downward facing dog by standing with your feet hip-distance apart and resting your hands on the back of a chair, bringing your torso parallel to the ground.
5# Downward dog with heels against the wall
Another way to release tension from the back of the legs is by resting your heels on the base of a wall, serving a similar purpose to using the blanket underneath your heels.
Get creative on other props you can use to access the downward dog pose and its variations!
10 Downward dog variations to mix it up
For those who feel like perhaps their asana practice is getting a bit stagnant and would like to play a bit, here are some downward dog variations that are sure to both improve our alignment and add variety to your sequences.
6# Downward down with knees bent
To relieve lower back and hamstring tension, as well as find more length and stretch through the spine, shoulders, and arms, try bending your knees deeply in your downward dog, while keeping your back long and your hips up and back.
7# Tri Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana (Three-Legged Downward Facing Dog)
One of the most popular downward dog variations that you will see a lot in vinyasa and flow yoga sequences, is three-legged dog.
This variation adds challenge to the arms and upper body, working your core.
It is a great transition before stepping forward into lunges and warrior poses.
8# Prasarita Adho Mukha Svanasana (Wide-Legged Downward Facing Dog)
For those wanting to find more extension through the back body, especially the legs, try bringing your feet wider.
That may allow for your heels to come a little bit closer to the ground, lengthening your back body even more.
9# Revolved Downward Dog
When wanting to take a fun balance challenge and a twist by taking your hand under and across, to catch your opposite outer thigh, calf, or ankle.
Take a few breaths there, reset into downward dog, and then try the other side.
10# Downward Dog with Feet Crossed
Another way to find more length in the back of the legs is by crossing one foot over the other when practicing the downward-facing dog pose.
It may help to take a step forward and make your stance from the hands to the feet a little more narrow than you would when practicing other downward-facing dog variations.
11# Downward dog with eagle legs
A playful variation of downward dog that can challenge your upper body stability as well as your lower body, is by coming into garudasana legs, crossing one leg in front of the other, and curing your toes behind the calf, squeezing everything to the midline.
For an added challenge, transition into vashistasana keeping the legs in eagle pose.
12# Downward dog with figure four legs
A less common variation of this posture is by bringing your legs into figure four, giving your hip a stretch, while the other leg gets a hamstring and calf release.
Take a few breaths on one side, reset, and then do the other side.
13# One-handed three-legged dog
When you feel solid with many of these downward dog variations and are ready to test your balance, try this interesting and fun option.
First, inhale, and from downward dog, lift your right leg up and find a three-legged dog. Once you feel steady, connect your right hand to the mat with more intention, hasta bandha, and begin to lift your left hand off the floor.
Breathe there for a while, and then come back to downward dog before attempting the same shape on the other side.
14# Dwi Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana
Tapping into the realm of binds and backends, this is a great variation to play with for those who have been practicing other downward dog variations for a while and feel warmed up enough.
This pose may not be accessible to many folks, and that’s absolutely okay!
15# Downward Dog with knees on the floor
For a more gentle, restful variation of downward dog, bring your knees down to the ground, stacking your hips over the knees and keeping the extension of the upper body and the grip of the hands.
This variation is great for those who want to keep the practice more grounded and stable.
A class on downward dog variations
If you’d like to practice some of the downward dog variations mentioned in this article, try this short tutorial on how to adapt downward dog and try a few different ways with props.
Downward facing dog is a common yoga pose that is included in many modern as well as more traditional styles of yoga.
For some practitioners, and especially when practiced at a slower pace, adho mukha svanasana can be almost a resting pose where they can find calm and feel the tension release from the body and mind.
For other yogis, or when adho mukha svanasana is practiced at a faster pace, or with an energizing pranayama technique, it can be quite invigorating as well as challenging.
Finding new ways and variations to explore it, is a great way to both freshen up the practice, as well as make it more accessible.
To learn more about and play with another yoga asana and its many variations, read this article next.