What Is Downward Dog? Everything You Need To Know

Even if you have no experience with yoga, you have probably heard of the Downward Dog (or Downward-Facing Dog) pose – which may lead you to believe it is one of the easiest. 

What Is Downward Dog? Everything You Need To Know

After all, the pose is simply a forward bend from the waist with your arms and legs extended and your head hanging down. How hard can it be?

However, despite its easy appearance, the downward dog is one of the hardest poses to master and can lead to injury if not done properly. 

While many instructors tend to incorporate the pose into their classes, don’t let this fool you into how challenging it can be. 

We love the downward-facing dog pose; however, we also want to make sure you know everything about the pose in order to reach your full potential. 

With the help of this guide, you’ll learn all the benefits of practicing this pose and how to avoid any potential injury and discomfort when performed incorrectly. 

Let’s get started. 

What is Downward Dog?

Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward dog or downward-facing dog) is a foundational pose, or asana, in yoga. While the asanas only make up one part of yoga, it is fundamental to modern Western yoga. 

Here, you move through the movement while focusing on your breath to help the mind and body connection. 

Not only does this yoga pose help to improve your physical health, including strength and flexibility, but also improves your clarity and mental focus, too. 

In yoga, the downward dog is typically used in sequences. In fact, if you have taken any yoga class, you have probably performed the pose at some point. 

The pose is easy enough for beginners; however, since it contains so many benefits and is fundamental to a range of other poses, it is used by advanced practitioners, too. 

In fact, it can be a useful pose and stretch by itself. Instructors will also use it as a transition between different poses, as well as a resting pose for the more difficult sequences. 

Benefits of Downward Dog Pose

While it is easy to get into the pose, you need endurance and strength to remain in the pose for long periods of time. 

This is because the pose engages all parts of the body; thus, bringing positive change to various areas of the body. 

1. Enhances Bone Density

  • Downward dog pose also helps to increase bone strength. Since you’re putting more weight onto your bones with the bone, it naturally increases the density. 
  • Exercise helps to rework and reshape the bones to handle the physical demands of the exercise. This is especially important for older people since you begin to lose bone mass after a certain period of time. 
  • If you’re looking to enhance your skeletal structure then you can achieve this with yoga. 

2. Strengthens your Shoulders and Arms

  • When you’re properly aligned in this pose, you should expect toned arms in no time. Plus, it helps to enhance wrist strength and prevents carpal tunnel syndrome. 
  • Downward dog focus much of your body weight on your arms and shoulders. Therefore, if you’re looking to build upper body strength, then this is a great pose for you. 

3. Improve Postures and Alleviate Back Pain

  • With regular yoga practice, a downward dog pose will help to realign your back. It does so by stretching your muscles in sore areas and keeping a supple spine. 
  • In modern society, back pain is a common problem. As workers become more sedentary, bad posture and back stiffness have increased pain and decreased spinal mobility. A downward dog pose can help with this. 
  • That said, you should keep in mind that it mostly helps with upper back issues. 

4. Improves Blood Flow

  • In the downward dog position, your head is below your heart – allowing blood to rush to your head. Overall, this helps to improve circulation. 
  • When your blood can flow to all regions of your body, you’ll feel more healthy and energetic. Plus, it even helps to regulate blood pressure with smoother blood flow. 

5. Enhances Foot Strength

  • Your feet are more important than you may believe. They allow you to get from place to place and perform a range of exercises. For instance, if you like to walk or run, then you should give the downward dog a try. 
  • This pose allows you to strengthen your foot muscles and stabilize your ankles. Thanks to these benefits, you’re less likely to get injured during a jog or hike. Plus, it will enhance your on-foot activities. 

How To Perform Downward Dog Properly

What Is Downward Dog? Everything You Need To Know

Upon first glance, the downward dog seems like a simple pose. However, simplicity doesn’t always mean that it is easy. 

That said, when looking at flexibility and skill level, downward dog is one of the easier poses to practice; therefore, making it more accessible than some other advanced poses. 

Nevertheless, you can still perform this pose incorrectly or fail to receive all the benefits. With these step-by-step instructions, you can master the pose in no time.

  • Begin with your hands and knees on the yoga mat. Place your hands slightly ahead of your shoulders and your knees under your hips. 
  • From here, spread your fingers wide and press your fingertips and edges of your hands against the mat – like a suction cup! 
  • Then tuck your toes under as you lift your hips and strengthen your legs – pressing your heels into the ground as far as your flexibility allows. 
  • Your body should be positioned in an upside-down V shape with your legs, arms, and back straight, your hips positioned high, and your head hanging down. 
  • Make sure your feet are shoulder-width apart with your toes pointed forward. 
  • While in this position, make sure you’re engaging your quads to take some pressure off your arms. Plus, try and rotate your upper arms outward to open up the chest and pull your shoulder down and away from your neck. 

Downward Dog Variations

Puppy Pose

This works as a great resting pose – puppy pose (otherwise known as half down dog) is perfect for stretching out your back, spine, and shoulders. You can also use it to focus on your abdomen. 

For this pose, start on all fours and walk your hands forward – bringing your ribs inwards and back. You’ll want to avoid letting your belly drop down. 

Place your forehead on the mat while making sure you don’t lift your forearms. Then push the tops of your feet into the ground to position your hips on top of your knees. 

If you prefer, you can draw your body lower to position your chest towards the mat with your arms resting and your palms facing in. 

Single-Leg Downward Dog

Here, you’ll want to start in the standard downward dog position with your legs underneath your hips. 

Then, wrap your triceps downward while lifting your hips up and back and lowering your chest to keep your shoulders aligned with your hips and wrists. 

Push your left foot into the ground while lifting your right heel towards the sky – making sure your right leg is firm yet mobile at the same time. 

Make sure your left heel is pressed firmly against the mat with the toes of your right foot down and your heel up. 

Keep your head down with your eyes facing between your arms or the back of the room. Stay in this position for five breaths then repeat on the other side. 

Scorpion Dog

If you’re looking to open up your hips, this pose can be especially beneficial. 

Here, you start in the traditional downward dog position and then raise your right left and bend it outwards so your heel is towards your glutes.

Make sure you are keeping your shoulders square on the floor while keeping your leg levitated. 

Alternatively, you can reach your arm back and grab the lifted foot. Hold and then repeat the pose on your other leg. 

One-Arm Downward Dog

Also known as Single-Arm Downward Dog, you start this pose on all four with your arms stretched out and away from you with your palms facing in. 

Then, tuck your and raise your knees into the traditional downward dog position. Hold and repeat on the other arm.

Tips for Mastering the Pose

What Is Downward Dog? Everything You Need To Know

For beginners, downward dog can sometimes be an awkward position, especially for those with tight hamstrings. 

Therefore, don’t expect the perfect “heels on the floor” straight away. It is perfectly normal to ease your body into position over time. 

Before then, we have compiled tips on mastering the downward dog pose for flexibility and seamless flow. 

1. Walk The Dog For Tight Hamstrings

For anyone with tight hamstrings or soreness in the back of their legs, you can try “walking the dog”. 

This saying is often used by yoga teachers to describe lifting one heel at a time. On the exhale, switch heels. 

You’ll want to alternate between each leg as if you’re walking. Here, instead of remaining still and willing your hamstrings to open up, this movement builds warmth. 

It can be especially beneficial in the morning when your body is still tight from sleeping. 

2. Bend Your Knees For Low Back Pain or Rounded Spine

When performing this pose, it is a common misconception that your legs have to remain straight. However, a micro-bend or even a deep knee bend is great for those with back pain. 

If you try to force your heels to the ground without fully extending your back, you’ll end up with a rounded spine and a curled pelvis – like a dog with its tail tucked! 

If you are feeling lower back tension in this pose then try coming to the balls of your feet and bending your knees towards your face while pressing your stomach inwards simultaneously. 

As you untuck your pelvis, your tailbone will reach upward and then a small bend in your knees will fix any alignment issues, including a rounded back. 

3. Try These Ticks For More Traction

Since your hands and feet are pressed in different directions in this pose, it can sometimes feel as if your body is unstable or you’re slippery. 

You could be using your zen to balance your body in an upside-down V shape but your hands are sliding all over the place. 

Using these tricks, you can quickly fix these issues:

  • Make sure you’re using a quality yoga mat. For instance, a cork yoga mat or a high-quality synthetic mat such as Alo Yoga’s Warrior Mat or Lululemon’s The Reversible Mat. 
  • If you need more grip during a sweaty or hot yoga session, then you’ll need a high-traction yoga towel. 
  • To improve the stickiness, spray some water over your mat. Some people prefer to mix 50/50 white vinegar to enhance this. 
  • If you find yourself slipping after using these tips, you may want to invest in yogi gloves or socks. 

4. Adjust Your Hands For Tight Shoulders

Some people find that they have too much tension in their shoulders to fully enjoy everything the pose has to offer. 

However, there is an easy solution: adjust your hands. Here, all you have to do is move your palms slightly wider or away from your head.

Plus, you can even try extending your arms outwards for a more comfortable position. 

5. Wide and Press Through Your Knuckles For Sore Wrists

As you start to become more familiar with the pose, you’ll find your wrist becoming sore from holding your body up. This is common during Ashtanga and Sun Salutation sequences. 

To reduce some stress on your wrists by spreading your body weight through your hands. 

Here, press the center joints and mounds of your thumbs and index fingers into the mat. Then ground using the outside of your palms. 

You should feel your wrists lift up slightly as your hand muscles take on more weight. This is great for strengthening your lower arms, wrists, and hands. 

Plus, it helps to prevent repetitive strain you may get from a desk job. 

Final Thoughts

While the pose seems easy enough, there is a lot to know about the humble downward dog. Believe it or not, it can be a challenging pose to master. 

This is why it is one of the best poses for beginners and advanced practitioners alike. However, in order to reap all the benefits, you’ll want to make sure you’re doing it properly. 

Hopefully, this guide has informed you about everything you need to know about the downward dog pose.

Laura Simmons
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