(Downward face Dog pose)
(AH-doh MOO-kah shvah-NAHS-anna)
adho = downward
mukha = face
svana = dog
Step by Step
- Come onto the floor on your hands and knees. Set your knees directly below your hips and your hands slightly forward of your shoulders. Spread your palms, index fingers parallel or slightly turned out, and turn your toes under.
- Exhale and lift your knees away from the floor. At first keep the knees slightly bent and the heels lifted away from the floor. Lengthen your tailbone away from the back of your pelvis and press it lightly toward the pubis. Against this resistance, lift the sitting bones toward the ceiling, and from your inner ankles draw the inner legs up into the groins.
- Then with an exhalation, push your top thighs back and stretch your heels onto or down toward the floor. Straighten your knees but be sure not to lock them. Firm the outer thighs and roll the upper thighs inward slightly. Narrow the front of the pelvis.
- Firm the outer arms and press the bases of the index fingers actively into the floor. From these two points lift along your inner arms from the wrists to the tops of the shoulders. Firm your shoulder blades against your back, then widen them and draw them toward the tailbone. Keep the head between the upper arms; don’t let it hang.
- Adho Mukha Svanasana is one of the poses in the traditional Sun Salutation sequence. It’s also an excellent yoga asana all on its own. Stay in this pose anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes. Then bend your knees to the floor with an exhalation and rest in Child’s Pose.
Benefits of Adhomukhaswansana
- It builds bone density. Postures like Downward Dog (as well as more difficult arm balances) that place weight on the arms and shoulders are great for building upper body strength and preserving bone density, says Herbert–especially important for women as we age and become more at risk for osteoporosis.
- It wakes you up. Herbert cites B.S.K. Iyngar, the 94-year-old founder of Iyngar yoga, who says that Downward Dog is one of the best poses you can do when you’re fatigued. “He recommends at least a minute in the pose,” she says, “to bring back lost energy for runners after a hard race.” It works equally well, she adds, for those of us who are just tired from a long day at the office, too.
- It eliminates stiffness and back pain. “I find it’s good for people who get pain in their shoulders and upper back,” says Herbert. “Practicing it with proper alignment can make your upper back more flexible and less likely to store so much tension.”
- It boosts circulation. Any pose where the heart is above the head is a good one for the circulatory system, because it encourages blood flow throughout the body. An active circulatory system helps flush toxins from our body, keep our immune system in tip-top shape, and helps regulate blood pressure.
- It can be easily modified. If you’re overweight, it can be intimidating, difficult, or even painful to put so much weight on your arms in downward dog. If the posture’s not comfortable for you, you can always drop down into Dolphin Pose, with elbows on the ground, to get many of the same benefits. (If you have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor before attempting downward dog, as well.)
- It’s a good check in with your body. Herbert says that yoga classes spend so much time in Downward Dog because it’s a good way to “take inventory” about how you’re feeling. “It stretches your arms, legs and back all at once, and you can take notice of what feels good and what you need to work on.”