Downward-Facing Dog: Adho Mukha Svanasana

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Downward Dog has the power to energize the whole body

— It strengthens and stretches from your hips to your spine to your fingers and toes—making you feel invigorated and alive. It can also be considered an inversion, gently preparing the body for going upside down.
Although its shape looks simple, Downward Dog is an intricate posture that requires a solid foundation and bodily awareness to feel it in all its glory. Sprinkled rhythmically throughout a flow, Downward Dog is considered a homecoming pose to undo any possible stiffness caused by a preceding asana. Yet, it is one of the most despised poses for beginners.

Start on the floor in a tabletop position. Engage your low belly, tuck the toes under, and lift the hips so that your knees come off the mat. The legs don’t have to straighten all the way. Keeping your knees bent helps you to lift your hips higher. Reach your sit bones high toward the ceiling and press the tops of your thighs back as you work toward straightening your legs. Remember that the power of this pose comes from the pelvis and hips rather than pushing through the arms and legs.

How to get there…

downward-facing dog
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Hands-shoulders-neck-gaze

Spread your fingers wide and press equally into all four corners of your hands. To ease the pressure in the wrists, grip the mat with your fingertips, like a cat digging its claws, allowing a little space to collect below your palm. Don’t assume your hands should be shoulder-width apart. Play with the distance to find what works best for you. Rotate the shoulders externally

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How far apart should the hands be from the feet?

In my career as a yoga teacher, if I had a penny for all the times I’ve adjusted stances in my student’s downward-facing dogs, I would be close to retirement (and I’m only thirty years old). There is no precise rule how far apart the hands should be from the feet. The correct distance helps you distribute the weight between the arms, the trunk, and legs, so you don’t overload one particular part. But every body is unique and therefore, the distance changes depending on your dimensions. 

Downdog
Downdog-too-wide

Pose too wide

If the legs and the arms are too far apart, the pose feels more like a plank, and the core is way too engaged; 

Down dog too narrow

Pose too narrow

if they are too close to each other, the spine tends to round (particularly if you have tight lowerback and hamstrings) and all the weight falls in the shoulders.

Down dog

Just right, Find your Goldilocks!

Your perfect stance allows you to lengthen the spine while working on bringing the heels to the ground. 

If the legs and the arms are too far apart, the pose feels more like a plank, and the core is way too engaged; if they are too close to each other, the spine tends to round (particularly if you have tight lower back and hamstrings) and all the weight falls in the shoulders.

Your perfect stance allows you to lengthen the spine while working on bringing the heels to the ground. 

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My teacher said: “stretch the spine and ground your heels.” If I ground the heels, the spine rounds. But if I stretch the spine, I need to bend my knees. 

down dog

Variation: Knees bent & spine long

Down Dog

Variation: Heels on ground

This pose targets both the spine and the back of the legs. If your hamstrings or lower back are tight, you can’t manage to stretch the spine and the legs simultaneously. If that’s the case, notice what feels juicier for yourself and take one part off the equation. If the spine extension is what you crave, then keep the knees bent. If it is the stretch in the back of the legs you are looking for, let the spine round. 

Next time you are on your mat, play around with these alignment cues and find what works best for you. Everybody is different; your Adho Mukha Svanasana is unique as your teacher’s or your friend’s. 

Namaste & join us for a class online or in-studio!

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