Downward-facing dog, or Adho Mukha Svanasana, is the most common posture in yoga. It is a compound stretch that encourages openness across a range of body parts – shoulders, back, hips and legs. As anyone who has done a Vinyasa Flow class will tell you, downward dog is the glue that links most of the flows together.
So how do you do it properly? Most yoga classes these days can have as many as 30 people, so it's impossible to get 1-on-1 tuition from your teacher. That’s why we’ve made this guide on everything you need to know about Adho Mukha Svanasana.
Come onto your hands and knees in table-top pose. You want your hands to be the same width apart as your shoulders and your feet and knees the same width as your hips. In other words, you want everything to be roughly vertical with the ground.
Lift your knees and straighten your legs to come into Plank pose. Keeping your feet steady where they are, use this moment to adjust your hand placement. The hands should be positioned so that the back of your wrist is directly underneath the top of your shoulder. The rotation of the hands should be such that both index fingers are pointing straight forwards towards the top of your yoga mat (If you are using one of our Yogaline mats then you will find your wrists lining up with your personalised alignment guides in this position).
Lift up your hips and push them backwards as you come into the downward-facing dog. It helps to imagine that you are trying to push your tailbone upwards as much as possible. You are welcome to bend your knees a little bit if this helps you to get your hips into a better position (remember, downward dog is not just a leg stretch)!
Focus on your hands and shoulders. Press down into the mat using the full length of each or your fingers. This creates a tension along the arms which will deepen the stretch and protect your wrist from injury. Check your shoulders: they should be back and down, away from the ears, rather than being hunched up. This will protect your elbows from damage over time. If you are struggling to bring your shoulders down then it can help to turn your hands outwards a little bit more.
Relax and deepen into the posture. It helps a lot to relax the neck and you can choose to have your eyes closed or focused on a specific point on your mat, between your feet for example. Rather than obsessing over getting your heels to the ground, imagine that you are trying to reach your chest closer to your feet. This way you will reap the benefits of the posture around your shoulders, back and hips.
There is much more to downward dog than meets the eye. It is an easy posture to learn and a hard one to master. Attention to detail is key and this is one posture that will become a huge part of your yoga journey.