I've been practicing yoga since the mid-80s, and the discovery of Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) was both a gift and a revelation to me. Through many years of experience and training I’ve learned there are many benefits to this simple, well-known asana.
Here are five great reasons to get your Down Dog on every single day:
1. To get upside down.
Not everyone is comfortable with handstands, headstand and arm balances, but Downward Dog is the safest and most accessible way to get your upside down on. This basic inversion not only improves blood flow to your brain, it also changes your perspective of the world.
That’s an added benefit whenever you feel stuck or stressed.
The best way to get into Downward Dog is to start on your hands and knees in Table Pose (Bharmanasana).
Be sure your hands are directly beneath your shoulders and your knees are underneath your hips. Keep your hands planted, tuck your toes under, then press your tailbone up in the air as you shift your weight back into your heels. Your body will form an upside down V-shape.
Many people tend to adjust here by moving their feet closer to their hands, but try to keep your hands and feet where they were in Table Pose, since this is the correct measurement for your own body.
2. To give your body a gentle back bend.
To do Downward Dog correctly, press through all your fingers and move your chest toward your thighs. This action will open your chest. Believe it or not, you’re in a baby back bend. Let your head hang at first. Feel that your weight is evenly distributed between your hands and feet.
To increase the backbend, tuck your chin and look up at your thighs. Bend your knees and shift your weight slightly to your feet to stretch your arms out in front. This action will further open your shoulders and chest. What a fantastic antidote to sitting in a chair or standing on your feet all day!
3. To stretch out the back of your body.
One of the most compelling benefits of Downward Dog is the natural way it stretches your lower back, hamstrings and calves. Many people who lead a sedentary lifestyle can experience tight hamstrings and calves from standing, walking and sitting for long periods of time.
To increase the stretch to the back of your body, press your heels down to the ground while you continue to press into your hands and spread your fingers.
A popular variation of Downward Dog is to “walk your dog.” In other words, bend one knee then the other, to focus on stretching your hamstrings and calves. Try timing it with a few deep, slow breaths.
4. To strengthen and stretch your wrists and ankles.
Our wrists and ankles tend to be neglected and abused joints. We use them constantly in every day life, but we rarely stretch them. Downward Dog gently strengthens your wrists by using some of your bodyweight. At the same time, it stretches your ankles by flexing them in at about 45 degrees while you press down through your heels.
These are indispensable actions to protect these critical joints, especially as we age.
5. To release tension in your neck and shoulders.
By letting your head hang in Downward Dog, you lengthen the cervical vertebrae in your neck. Close your eyes, breathe deeply and let the weight of your head and gravity do the work.
A popular suggestion by yoga teachers is to release tension in your neck by shaking your head “yes” and “no.” Keep your shoulders away from your ears by pressing through your hands and drawing your shoulder blades down your back. Tuck your chin and look back at your thighs, or bend your knees slightly to create even more space in your shoulders and rotator cuffs.
To get out of Downward Dog, bend your knees and return to Table Pose, taking a Child's Pose to rest for a few moments.
This pose is simple, quick and highly effective, especially when you take the time to do it every single day. On the days that you don’t make it to a yoga class, there's always time to get your Downward Facing Dog on at home. This pose is my go-to place to decompress my psyche, and give a little extra love and care to my body.
Photos courtesy of the author
K. Mae Copham is a visual artist, RYT-200 yoga instructor, and the creator of Yoga Teddy Bear. She is based in NYC. Yoga Teddy Bear invites you to soften your yoga and approach your practice with an attitude of playfulness and joy, whether you're five or 95 years young. The project consists of story books, asana books, coloring books, stickers, yoga mats, animations and more featuring the Yoga Teddy Bear character and friends based on yoga poses.