How to Perform Downward Facing Dog Pose Correctly (BENEFITS & MODIFICATIONS) 

How to Perform Downward Facing Dog Pose Correctly (BENEFITS & MODIFICATIONS) 

Have you ever noticed the way dogs stretch their bodies? If you have, you will understand why we call this asana the “downward facing dog”!

Adho Mukha Svanasana or downward-facing dog is a pose that forms the face of yoga. Its importance in modern yoga is the main reason for this asana to have gained so much popularity. If you are a beginner, the downward-facing dog will be one of the starting poses you will be taught. 

The downward dog is a standing pose and form of inversion, which helps you build overall body strength. It is a crucial element of the Surya Namaskara or Sun Salutations and is performed multiple times during a single yoga session. It is generally used as a resting pose or a transitional pose. 

Downward Facing Dog

Benefits of Downward Facing Dog 

There are various ways in which practicing the downward facing dog can be hugely beneficial for you. 

  • It stretches your hands, shoulder, calves, and arches.
  • It strengthens your arms and legs. 
  • It energizes and rejuvenates your body. 
  • It calms your brain
  • It helps to get rid of stress and mild depression.
  • It prevents osteoporosis 
  • It helps to relieve menopausal symptoms. 
  • It promotes digestive functions.
  • It reduces headaches, back pain, fatigue, and insomnia. 
  • It is considered therapeutic for sinusitis, sciatic, asthma, flat feet, and high blood pressure 
  • It improves memory and concentration 

How to do the downward dog pose?  

  1. First, get down on your hands and knees. Make sure your wrists are aligned correctly below your shoulders, and your knees are aligned under your hips. Try and direct your middle fingers to the top edge of your mat.
  2. Keep your upper back relaxed and stretch your elbows out.
  3. Spread your fingers out, and firmly press them with your knuckles and palms. Ensure you distribute all the weight evenly across your hands. 
  4. Lift your knees off the floor while you tuck your toes. Exhale. Gradually raise your pelvis towards the ceiling. 
  5. Bring your buttocks toward the wall behind you.
  6. Without fully locking your knees, slowly start straightening your legs. Adjust your body so that it looks like an inverted ‘V.’ Push your hips and thighs upwards and backward, as though they are being pulled from the back.
  7. Make sure your feet are not too close to your hands and that you maintain the extension of your entire body.
  8. Bring your shoulder blades into the ribs in your upper back and the direction of your tailbone. 
  9. Rotate your arms laterally in a way that your thumb and your elbow crease face each other.
  10. Pull your chest towards your thighs, and continue pressing the surface away from yourself. This will decompress and lengthen your spine. 
  11. Employ your quadriceps and rotate your thighs medially. Let your heels push down on the floor. Make sure your ears are in line with your upper arms. Hold your vision at your navel or pelvis while practicing this pose. 
  12. Once you have held the position for the required breaths, release by bending your knees gently and rest on your knees and hands again. 

How You Can Use Props 

Regardless of whether you are a beginner to yoga, a full-fledged yogi, props such as blankets, straps, and wedges will always help. Props promote a more reliable connection with the pose without it having the straining and pressurizing the body.

  • Yoga Blocks – Using blocks can help you if you have tight wrists and fingers 
  • WallYou can support your upper body and have full contact with your feet to the ground by using a wall.
  • Yoga Wedge – Just like blankets, a wedge can help the gap between your heels and the ground.
  • Yoga Straps – Engage your shoulder and hip lock by using a strap above your knees and elbows.
  • Chair – If you do not want to stress your joints because of the weight, try using a chair.
  • Yoga Blanket – Fold or roll up 1-2 blankets and place them under your heels.

Ways You Can Modify This Pose 

Downward Facing DogThe downward-facing dog is often practiced in Vinyasa, Ashtanga, and Power Yoga sessions. It is essential to learn how to perfect it to prevent injury and fatigue. Consider these following changes so that you can adjust the way it suits you.

1. Bend Your Knees

If you cannot make your heels touch the mat, do not worry! Bending your knees can help if your hamstrings and calves are tight. This way, the integrity of the pose will remain without compromising body alignment.

2. Keep One of Your Forearm on the Floor 

If this pose is being tough on your wrists, you should try the dolphin-dog hybrid pose. Practicing it with this modification will give each of your wrists a break.

You can also place a towel that has been rolled up and bend your knees, too, if that works better for you. This means you can deal with your tight hamstrings without having to rest your wrists. 

3. Support Your Heels

If your calves are super tight and if there is a considerable amount of distance between your heels and the mat, bring the mat closer to you. Or even rolling a mat or towel up below your heels will free up your entire body.

It is a simple way to relax your quadriceps, round the back, lock your knees, and put your weight forward onto the wrists and shoulders, which will cause pain in the upper body. Slightly bending your knees will make it easier to tip your pelvis back and upward, making your hamstrings lengthen and taking off the pressure from your hips.

4. Use a Yoga Strap 

Loop and secure a strap around your arms, just above the elbows. You will get to feel the work of the outer arms. Tighten the strap, work on pushing your arms out against the resistance, and push your shoulder blades outwards.

5. Increase Depth 

To deepen the pose or stretch your legs even further, pull your heels slightly away from the floor and lift on to the balls of your feet. Try to bring your inner groins deep into the pelvis while actively lifting from your inner heels. Lengthen the heels back from the height of the groin and move the outer heels fast. 

It is essential to consult your therapist or your yoga instructor before you try any of these props or modifications to see what suits you the best.

Preparatory Poses 

1. Bridge Pose

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana or the bridge pose helps to stretch your spine, lengthen your neck and open your chest. 

How to Perform Downward Facing Dog Pose Correctly (BENEFITS & MODIFICATIONS) 

How to do the bridge pose?

  • Lie flat on your back while you keep your knees bent. 
  • Keep your feet close to your buttocks, at a hip-width distance.
  • Inhale and gently raise your hips.
  • Get on your toes by lifting your heels. 
  • Interlock your fingers and reach your arms towards your feet and walk your shoulder below you.
  • Free your fingers and bring your hands under your hips while your fingers point out, helping you elevate the hips.
  • You can hold this for about five breaths.

2. Cat-Cow Pose 

Marjaryasana-Bitilasana or cat-cow pose helps to open your shoulders and stretches your arms.

Cat Cow Pose

How to do the cat-cow pose?

  • Keep your hands at a shoulder-width apart and your wrists at the height of your hip. Ensure your hands are firmly placed against the wall. Keep walking your feet back until your heels are directing below your sitting bones.
  • Your head needs to be lowered between your arms pressing against the hands on the wall. Engage your quadriceps by lifting your sitting bones.
  • Take 5-10 breaths through your nose.

Box on the Wall Pose 

The box on the wall pose makes your shoulder open and stretches your arms.

Bridge on the wall
Source: https://yogajournal.com

How to do the box on the wall pose?

  • Keep your hands at a shoulder-width apart and your wrists at the height of your hip. 
  • Ensure your hands are firmly placed against the wall. Keep walking your feet back until your heels are directing below your sitting bones.
  • Your head needs to be lowered between your arms pressing against the hands on the wall. Engage your quadriceps by lifting your sitting bones.
  • Take 5-10 breaths through your nose.

Make Sure Not to Make These Mistakes

While practicing yoga, various asanas need to be performed by the book to reap all of its benefits. We have discussed some mistakes in posture and alignment that people commonly make while doing this pose.

1. Buttocks Position 

Bend your knees and come onto the balls of your knees. Draw your belly in a way that it rests on your thighs. Straighten your legs while you still keep the high upward rotation of your sitting bones. This will help your buttocks be in the correct position.

2. Foot Position 

Make your toes point to the front of the mat. Try not to turn your feet outwards. You need to pay attention to the distance between your feet as well. Do not let the gap be so broad that your feet touch the edges of the mat or so narrow that your feet touch one another. Make sure you position your feet at your hip’s width. Set your feet at the correct distance, release your heels, and keep your buttocks high.

3. Releasing Heels 

This is one of the most common mistakes beginners make while doing the downward dog pose. Releasing your heels towards the floor is essential. If not, there will be a shift of trajectory of the pose to the back instead of your heels. This means that your heels don’t necessarily have to touch the floor but should be moving in that direction.

4. Drooping Back 

If you happen to be a flexible person, prevent your rib cage from sinking to the floor, and create a position that looks like your back is drooping down. Make sure you tighten your ribs to maintain a flat back. 

Is This Pose for You?

While the downward-facing dog can be great for you, if you happen to have the following conditions, you need to reconsider practicing this asana or take the necessary precautions.

  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Headache 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Pregnancy (especially third trimester)
  • Injury of back, arms or shoulders
  • Eye or ear infections 

Tips and Precautions 

  • If you have hunching shoulders, nod and shake your head to make your neck feel relaxed.
  • If your body has high flexibility, draw your lower ribs in and keep your back flat to prevent your ribcage from sinking.
  • If you happen to be hyper-mobile, micro-bend your arms to avoid your elbows from locking. 
  • If your heels do not touch the ground, maintain a higher angle to your inverted ‘V.’ Lift your pelvis while retaining the length of your spine.
  • Ensure that you firmly press down the knuckle of your index finger to protect your wrists. 

Summary 

The downward-facing dog is the most famous yoga asana for a reason. It warms up, stretches, and strengthens your whole body. Incorporating this pose into your regular yoga sessions will increase the blood flow in your body and will also help in calming your mind.

Just make sure your body supports this pose or try out a modified version to see what suits you the best. Do not forget to consult your doctor or a yoga teacher before you commit to doing it. You will see definitive results in your everyday life because of practicing this pose, even beyond the yoga mat. 

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