It’s got to be the most recognised of all yoga poses, right? Adho Mukha Svanasana, or Downward Facing Dog appears in most styles of yoga as either a strengthening pose, a transition pose or a resting pose. Getting the alignment right is not only important for your anatomy, it also helps you to love this pose.
For some people whenever the teacher asks you to “rest” in Downward Dog it doesn’t feel anything like a “rest”. A form of scoliosis combined with an extremely tight psoas and hamstrings mean that often there is a pronounced bulge in the lower thoracic spine in Downward Dog and for others it may be their wrists, particularly in the morning before warming up. Don’t be fixated with placing your heels on the floor, as if that is the measuring stick, it only serves to compress the spine and create a whole lot of discomfort.
1. Hands Should Be Shoulder Distance Apart.
Spread your fingers wide and align your wrist crease to the front of the mat. Use the whole surface area of your hand including your 5 finger pads and emphasise pressing the index and thumb pads into the mat.
2. Feet Are Sit Bone/Hip Distance Apart.
Glance back and check your feet. If you can see your heels, try turning them out slightly so you can’t see them anymore.
3. Activate Your Arms.
As you press down through your wrists, feel the energy draw back up to activate your arms. Feel as though your thumbs want to draw in magnetically towards each other which will slightly rotate your forearms inwards, towards each other.
4. Upper Arms Externally Rotate.
I know it sounds tricky to internally rotate the forearms and externally rotate the upper arms, but anatomically, the arms are up for it. It’s a fairly subtle action like imagining that you are hiding your underarms from the person on the next mat. This will also keep your shoulders away from your ears, giving more space in the neck.
5. Neck And Head Continue Along The Same Line As The Spine.
It’s super important to be aware of where your head and neck are in space in any yoga pose, this one is no exception. The neck is part of the spine, so it should follow the same natural line. In a person with text book alignment, the head will be between the upper arms—but of course, exact placement of the neck will depend on your specific anatomy. The key thing to be mindful of is that you’re neither letting the head just ‘hang,’ nor crunching the neck too far up.
6. Firm Shoulder Blades And Broaden Across The Upper Back.
Loads of yogis scrunch up through the tops of the shoulders and around the neck in this pose, which can create even more tension and make it really uncomfortable. By firming the shoulder blades and feeling them draw down towards the tail and broadening across the upper back, you can provide space as well as stability.
7. Engage The Lower Belly By Drawing The Navel In Towards The Spine.
A firm core is key and can help to take some weight out of the shoulders and wrists, and back into the legs. Draw the lower ribs in and keep this core activation going throughout the pose.
8. Bend Knees A Little (Or A Lot) And Send The Sit Bones And Tail Bone Up And Back.
Feel the difference this makes in your spine. If you have tight hamstrings, for the sake of your back you are far better to practice this pose with bent knees rather than force the heels down and compromise length in the spine. Let your focus be spine first, heels down second (check out the photos above to see the comparison).
9. Inner Thighs Rotate Inwards As You Firm The Outer Thighs.
Do this, and notice how much easier it becomes to lift the sit bones up and back.
10. Straighten Legs Without Changing The Shape In The Spine Or Pelvis.
Once you’ve reached this point, you can start to lengthen the heels back. Perhaps they reach the floor, perhaps they don’t. One of the great benefits of this pose is lengthening out through the legs, but by prioritising the heels down last, you may enjoy a much better experience in your spine, which should always take priority.
When the muscles in the backs of the legs are ready to lengthen, they’ll lengthen. Be patient and embrace your point in the journey.
These are general tips, which means they don’t take into account any specific injuries or conditions. As an example, if you have a wrist injury you may need to modify to the forearms (Dolphin) or try this pose against a wall. If you do have any specific conditions then ask your yoga teacher in person about modifications suitable for your totally unique self.
~ Erin Motz