Downward facing dog is one of the most recognized yoga postures. It is a common posture in most yoga classes and can be accessible to various bodies. Simple modifications allow for nearly anyone to practice this posture and still receive the many benefits adho mukha svanasana has to offer.
Yoga is an ancient practice. It was passed down orally and, as a result, its origin is unclear. It has been tracked down for 5,000 years, but some historians believe it can be 10,000 years old!
Last week, I was chatting with my husband, and he asked why yoga postures had animal names. He asked if “downdog” was a translation or a change made by the English language. In Sanskrit, svana means “dog.” Adho mukha means having the face downwards. Downward facing dog is a literal translation. This also means that yogis were likely practicing with or near dogs, and whoever named the posture, adho mukha svanasana, was keenly aware of the resemblance of the posture and a dog stretching. Watch a dog stretch, and you’ll notice that the posture is aptly named.
The posture is meant to rest, stretch and restore energy. However, when teaching yoga, people mention that they cannot get their legs straight or that their arms or wrists hurt during down-dog.
Luckily, there are multiple modifications to assist the body as it learns adho mukha svanasana. For a tight back body, bend your knees, but still press your heels down. For wrist pain, you can place your hands on blocks. For shoulder pain, you can use a wall and place your hands on the wall as a down-dog. Downward facing dog has many benefits and is usually done often in a yoga class. Don’t be embarrassed to modify downward facing dog; it is a common posture so use your modifications!
Benefits for adho mukha svanasana are stretching while strengthening. When performed properly, the posture allows you to feel both alert and relaxed. It improves posture and circulation. The posture is also excellent to counteract the effects of prolonged sitting.
Adho Mukha Svanasana
- Start on your hands and knees on the floor. Make sure your wrists are directly beneath your shoulders and your knees are directly beneath your hips.
- Spread your fingers wide and press firmly into the mat.
- Exhale and bring your navel toward your spine, then lift your knees off the floor.
- At the same time, lift your sitting bones and tailbone towards the ceiling.
- Firm your outer arms and press your shoulder blades away from your ears.
- Straighten your legs as much as you can while pressing your heels toward the floor. (It is okay for your knees to be bent and for your heels to be off the floor.)
- Hold the pose for five breaths, then gently lower your legs and come back to your hands and knees.