How to Do Downward Facing Dog in Yoga (Guide to Adho Mukha Svanasana)

Downward Facing Dog is a pose integral to yoga practice. Even most people unfamiliar with yoga will have seen or heard of Downward Facing Dog. It combines elements of inversion and a forward bend, creating a beautiful inverted V shape.

In yoga practice, it is often used as part of dynamic sequences (Sun Salutation and Vinyasa), but it can also be performed as a standalone pose.

“The funny thing about Downward Facing Dog is that our perception of this asana transforms as our practice evolves,” says Yoga Answered contributor Cat Harvey. “When you’re new to yoga, Downward Dog can feel extremely difficult, but as we get stronger, it’s seen almost as a resting pose. When you catch yourself looking forward to Downward Facing Dog, you’ve crossed into the next stage of your yoga journey.”

Downward Facing Dog Quick Look

Sanskrit Name: Adho Mukha Svanasana
Pose Type: Forward Bend Yoga Poses, Standing Yoga Poses, Strengthening Yoga Poses
Difficulty Level: Beginner pose
Targets: Arms, shoulders, wrists, lower back, hamstrings, calves, ankles.
Benefits: As an inversion, Downward Facing Dog can have a soothing effect on our thoughts and emotions. It allows the spine to lengthen and decompress, especially relaxing for the cervical spine (neck). In Downward Facing Dog, hands bear a large part of the body weight, strengthening wrists, shoulders, trapeze muscles, and the upper back. The folding action in the hips conditions the hip flexors and stretches the glutes. One of the best-known benefits of Downward Facing Dog is the lengthening action it provides for the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. It also improves the flexibility of the ankles and stretches the sciatic nerve.
Preparatory Poses: Tabletop Pose, Extended Puppy Pose, Thread the Needle

How to Do Downward Facing Dog Step-By-Step

  1. Start in a tabletop position, with the hands near the front of your yoga mat. Separate the fingertips and press the weight through the entire palms.
  2. On an inhale, tuck the toes under and lift the knees off the floor. Push firmly though the hands and raise the hips to the sky.
  3. Lower the chest through the space between the arms. Relax the neck and bring the gaze towards the back of your mat. Lengthen though the spine, reaching up and back with your sit bones.
  4. Carefully straighten your legs and reach the heels towards the ground. Depending on the sequence, you may stay in Downward Facing Dog for 1-5 breaths.

Beginner’s Tip

The priority in Downward Facing Dog is to lengthen through the spine and fold at the hips. That means the knees can be bent to accommodate that, especially if straightening your legs causes discomfort or pain. Additionally, you can keep the heels lifted off the ground. To help you loosen up through the hamstrings and calves, you can add some movement, e.g., “pedal” through the feet and twist the hips side to side. If you find it hard to stay in Downward Facing Dog due to the limitations in the upper body (i.e., wrists or shoulders), you can perform Downward Dog against the wall, which will still open your chest and shoulders as well as stretch your legs.

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