How to do Downward Dog

Apr 18

How to do Downward Dog

Sanskrit: Adho Mukha Svanasana

Day 1 for the #Splits30 Instagram Challenge is Downward Dog!

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Downward Dog is a complex and challenging pose. Do not get frustrated if this pose does not make sense to you the first couple times that you try it.

There are many opposite directions of energy happening in this pose, meaning that you must find both effort and return throughout the body in a harmonious way. In our normal day-t0-day lives, efforts and returns look like alertness and relaxation, often existing in opposition to each other. But on the mat, we must learn how to inhabit both of these qualities in our bodies.

When balance inhabits one’s bodies, the pose looks effortlessly strong and calm.


  • Press first finger and thumb firmly into ground. This fires up forearms and moves energy up towards hips.
  • Externally rotate shoulders, lengthen lats and sides of body.
  • Engage thigh muscles and lift knee caps up
  • Knit ribs together
  • Pull belly to spine.
  • Use forearms to lift base of palm.
  • Keep parallel to one another, and press heels down towards floor.


  • Dumping weight into wrists means the forearms are slack, and too much weight in wrists.
  • Shoulders are not externally rotated, and lats are not lengthening, making the posture heavy
  • The belly is not pulled in so the tailbone tilts up and causes the weight in the wrists to be heavy.
  • Ribs not knitted together, causing front body to be heavy, unsupported, and weak.

How to do Downward Dog

  1. Begin on your hands and knees. Wrists are directly underneath your shoulders, and knees directly under your hips.
  2. Firmly press your thumb and first finger into floor, and very subtly fire up your forearms by lifting the base of your wrist off the floor, only enough so that a single sheet of paper can fit under the base of the palms.
  3. A basic guideline for the hands is that the creases of the wrists should be parallel to the top edge of your mat. Although this might differ from body to body.
  4. Eye of the elbow works towards facing the top of the mat.
  5. As you fire up your forearms, continue to draw the energy up the arms, and externally rotate your shoulders – without adjusting your hands.
  6. Lower belly is pulled in and up towards spine, and ribs are softly knitted in towards each other to support the back body.
  7. Exhale as you tuck your toes and lift your knees off the floor, and begin to reach your tailbone up towards the wall behind you.
  8. As you continue to stretch the legs, keep the integrity of the upper body as the lower half of the body transitions up into downward dog.
  9. Engage the thighs as they work towards straightening, making your knee caps lift.
  10. Feel the “A” shape that your body is making, and run your mind along your body through the pose, checking in on each point in the body.
  11. Continue to press the floor away from you with your hands as you lengthen the sides of the body. Try to imagine your lat muscles getting longer.
  12. Feel the external rotation of the shoulders, and how they hug the outer arms in. Draw the shoulder blades down into your upper back and continue the energy towards your tailbone.
  13. Lengthen and decompress your spine.
  14. Keep the inner thighs rotating back towards the wall behind you, and keep your feet parallel to one another. Work towards pressing heels to the floor – although it’s perfectly alright to not have them touch the floor.
  15. Head is aligned with your upper arms, keeping it alive, but not over extended, nor dangled.
  16. Hold for 5-100 breaths.


If you are tight: 

Do not worry if your heels do not touch the ground. Avoid walking your feet closer to your hands though. Instead, place a block underneath each hand to add length to the pose.

If you are flexible: 

Do not let the ribs sink like a hammock. You will need to contain the pose and work towards engaging the lower belly, thighs, lats, and forearms to support your flexibility.

What will Downward Dog do for your soul?

Stretching the back of your legs opens your unconscious mind, and any feelings that are stuck. Feelings that you might not even realize that are running your life and influencing your daily decisions. As the legs open up more, you will open yourself up to the universe, and to yourself. You will feel more connected, more in tune, and hold a greater emotional intelligence with yourself and the world around you.

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