Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) Demystified


‘Adho’ means ‘downward’ ’, ‘Mukha’ means ‘Face’, and ‘Svana’ means ‘Dog’.

This asana imitates and earns its name from the posture of a dog stretching after a good nap. If we observe dogs we will see that they do this stretch several times in a day – they instinctively keep their limbs wonderfully stretched and agile. Adho Mukha Svanasana or The Downward Facing Dog pose is suitable for everyone from beginners to adept yogis, and is one of the most widely recognized yoga postures. However, as simple as it seems, this pose can be broken down, dissected and comprehended in a very thorough manner. This beautiful posture works on every part of the body.

Adho Mukha Svanasana builds muscular and bone strength, increases flexibility, relieves backache, strengthens the lungs, and cures headaches. Adho Mukha Svanasana is categorized as a half inversion since the top half of the body is inverted.

The Downward dog prepares a person for standing poses as well as in warming-up the muscles at the start of yoga practice. The Downward Facing Dog pose is continuously repeated while performing different styles and sequences of yoga. It provides a transition between poses, for instance during the Surya Namaskaar sequence and different Vinyasa flows

The Right Way To Do it

As with any workout, the Downward Facing Dog pose can be stressful without a proper warm-up. So, get your body a little limbered up, with a few simple stretches before following the steps below.

  1. Get on the floor on all-fours into table pose, with your knees directly underneath your hips, your hands directly underneath your shoulders and a flat back.. Keep your gaze downward. Keeps your palms firmly grounded on the mat and fingers spread out so that you do not hurt your wrists.
  2. Keep your upper arms and shoulders rotated inwards so that the full arms remain steady and the elbows do not flare out, nor in..
  3. Exhaling, tuck in your navel, and pressing into the floor with your hands, lift your knees off the floor and continue to lift the hips back and up pushing yourself into an inverted V-position.
  4. Initially, keep your knees bent to lengthen the spine, taking the hips up and away from you. In a while, as the body eases and opens further, if you can, straighten the legs and flatten your heels on the floor, while maintaining the length in the spine. Keep your thighs rotated inwards and and knees straight.
  5. Press the upper arms towards each other, while pushing the shoulder blades down the back towards the waist, all the while maintaining the space across the tops of the shoulders.
  6. Take long deep breaths while holding the pose. Keep your gaze towards the navel. Maintain equal weight on the front and back halves of the body.
  7. Exhale deeply, bend the knees, and return to table position again. Relax and repeat.
  8. To go deeper in this stretch – we start in table position, then shift our hands 6 to 8 inches forward, rise up the same as before, stretching the arms, legs and spine and the difference here being that, instead of forming an inverted V position, we push our lower back in, exaggerating our lumbar curve. This allows deeper extension in the spine and allows our forehead to sink all the way to the floor, below our arms. This is a very powerful stretch and we need to remember that in a normal seated or standing position we should never over arch our back. We allow an exaggerated lower back arch only during forward bends to give full extension to the spine and if we observe dogs, we’ll see that they do this version of the stretch. Dogs don’t form the inverted V shape. This version of the pose, dynamically lengthens and strengthens our spine, arms and legs.

Benefits of the Downward Dog

  • This posture removes stiffness from the shoulder joints, wrists, hands and fingers. Also strengthens the shoulders, wrists and arm muscles tremendously.
  • The entire spinal column is stretched and lengthened. The compression between the inter vertebral discs is eased.
  • While holding this posture the abdominal muscles remain tense and engaged and are consequently strengthened.
  • Staying in this pose for just one full minute removes fatigue and restores energy.
  • It helps to relieve depression, insomnia, stress, back pain and headaches, and symptoms of menopause.
  • In this half inversion the fluid in the lungs rush from the bottom of the lungs to the top, thereby allowing the much needed airing out of the broad lower lungs. This strengthens our lungs and respiratory system.
  • It improves mobility of the digestive system.
  • Downward Facing Dog calms the nervous system and helps relieve stress.

Preparatory Poses

  • Plank Pose
  • Padahastasana.

What You Should Not Do

Here is a list of things that you should be cautious of when doing the Downward Facing Dog.

  • Don’t let your shoulders hunch up into your ears, try to keep them pressed down, with a nice gap between shoulders and ears.
  • Ensure that there is equal distribution of weight between the hands and feet. This means the front and back of the body as well as the left and right side of the body.
  • Ensure that – utilizing a deep exhale your hips are pushed upwards and that the body is forming an inverted V-shape.
  • Ensure that the legs & arms are straight. This means try not bending the elbows and knees.

Medical Precaution:

Avoid doing the Downward Facing Dog pose if you are a patient of high blood pressure, carpal tunnel syndrome, if you have a detached eye retina, weak eye capillaries, dislocated shoulder /shoulder injury or diarrhea. Additionally do not do this pose during the later stages of pregnancy.


We might hit some roadblocks when we initially try perfecting the Downward Facing Dog pose. Hence, here are some modifications that can help you overcome these hurdles.

  • For Hurting Wrists and Hands: This problem is the most common one with beginners or if we are not used to bearing weight on our hands. So, to make this easy and less painful, we can place a foam wedge specifically made for the purpose or could roll up another yoga mat, blanket, or towel under the heels of the hands to open the angle of the wrist.
  • For Hurting Shoulders and Neck: If we have a weak upper body then we would probably find that our shoulders hunch up near the ears. To prevent this, we need to draw the shoulders away from the ears creating space around the neck. So it’s helpful to focus on broadening through the collarbones and chest and when our shoulders tense up, we can take a break and rest in child’s pose , or kneel and gently stretch our shoulders, rotate the arms or gently shake them and come back to the downward facing dog pose when we feel that we have recovered.
  • Heels Not Touching The Floor/Lower Back Rounding : The priority in this pose is a long spine, tailbone to neck, in preference to straight legs or heels on the floor. If we find that our spine is rounding, we can widen our feet and gently bend our knees so that we can extend the hips up towards where the ceiling meets the wall. This allows the spine to lengthen. With practice, when the spine stops rounding, we can begin to work on straightening the knees and pressing the heels into the floor or then, towards the floor.


Many who do the Downward Facing Dog Pose during a sequence, use it as a moment of rest between difficult Yoga exercises, or as a transition between postures in a Vinyasa flow. Whenever doing it, we must remain focused, both physically and mentally. Continue to work the technique further to get the maximum benefits from this dynamic stretch.

You can also read “Downward Facing Dog: Exploration, Anatomy, and Alignment” to learn more about the muscles and body parts which are involved and affected by this pose.


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