This pose resembles a dog stretching itself with head and forelegs down and the hind legs up, hence the name. (Light on Yoga, p 110)
Adho means “down,” mukha, meaning “face,” svana, meaning “dog,” and asana, meaning “pose”.
It helps to:
- Relieve pain and stiffness in the legs and heels, so great for runners and sprinters.
- Strengthen and shape the legs.
- Open up the shoulder blades and shoulder joints.
- Strengthen the arms and legs.
- Relieve fatigue.
Avoid practicing this asana when you have a fever or are feeling lightheaded. Also if you have diarrhea, avoid this asana.
Busting the Myths
Most yoga students feel touching your head to the floor is the ultimate goal in this asana (a la BKS Iyengar). Guess what? Forcing your head to the floor makes you curve your spine, which is definitely not what you want to be doing. Read on for some practice pointers…
- Resting your heels against a wall and pushing into the wall will enable you to engage and extend the back of the legs.
- If you are menstruating, have high blood pressure or a headache, rest your head on a bolster or block.
Incidentally, I wrote about the adho mukha svanasana a few weeks ago. Check out the blog, it may shed more light.
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I was talking about pets the other day with some of my friends. One of them has recently adopted a dog and the other one is also planning on getting one. All of us know a dog lover or two. All of us know a downward dog lover or two too (#yogahumor)!
In ‘Beyond Asanas‘ the first chapter is about the downward dog pose. When researching this posture I looked at dog-lore from different cultures. My goal was also to unearth dog-related stories in our mythology. And sure enough – I found a few stories – two of which have made it into this chapter. In one story a dog helps Lord Indra and in another story a dog is granted admission into heaven after the battle of Kurukshetra.
The Downward Dog is a challenging posture. The most common challenge I see with students is the inability to lengthen the spine. Many beginners are in a hurry to place the heels on the floor, and this compromises the form of the lower back.
- Place your hands and knees on the floor, shoulder and hip width apart.
- Spread your fingers wide on the mat and press the hands down firmly.
- Start to straighten your legs.
- Lift and extend your tailbone up and out.
- Extend the torso by extending the spine.
- Lengthen the back of the legs as you push the heels into the floor.
- Relax the neck, face and shoulders.
It’s a good idea to start in Vajrasana because your legs are together – which is how you want them to be in the final posture too.
In this position position you need to make sure that your wrists are right under should shoulders. And here you can also separate your legs about hip width distance, making sure that the ankles and knees are in one line.
Notice the length in the spine. Things you must watch out for: allowing the shoulders to sag down close to the ears, a curve in the thoracic and lumbar spine, and bent knees. Watch this video to learn how to correct these alignment issues.
You can use props such as a wall, blocks and a rope to help you in aligning the posture. I’ve written a few helpful hits about how to improve this posture in ‘Beyond Asanas: The Myths and Legends Behind Yogic Postures’. Those of you who follow me on YouTube may remember this video I made in 2016. It’s a great video for beginners, because of the detailed explanation of how to get into the posture. Do check it out – it will surely help.
I’ve listed out at least 10 benefits of this asana in the book. However, there are contraindications as well, and those have also been described in ‘Beyond Asanas’. Pick up your copy today.
I’ve never had a dog, but I’m not impervious to their charms. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve met Aston. He makes my time in Pune a little more fun, a little less lonely.
Holding the Chaturanga for 2 minutes is an awesome way to test your core and arm strength. If you want to make it a bit more challenging do the Chaturanga pushups. Basically you lower yourself towards the ground until your arms are parallel to your body and then push up into the regular plank.
Besides this you can do the little move demonstrated in this video:
The Adhomukha Svanasana is an awesome way to stretch the entire body. The picture below is not a great one of the pose since I’m wearing socks (extremely cold in Delhi) and my sister doesn’t have a yoga mat (still recovering from shock). However, remember that this asana is also about core strength. You want to use your core strength to elongate your spine. Push your index finger and thumb into the floor to lift and lengthen your body. The stretch on both sides of the body should be equal, so if you feel you are engaging your right hand more (as most right handed people tend to do), then actively start to push your left into the floor. Your heels DO NOT need to touch the floor. However, you need to ensure that the back of your legs are also stretched. The heels should not lean in towards each other, they should be pushed slightly away from each other. The challenge in the Adhomukha Svanasana is to elevate the tailbone as much as you can, without compromising the length of the spine.
This asana is to be practiced on arms day because it’s through arm work that you’ll be able to lengthen and straighten the spine. Work on opening up the shoulders and pushing the shoulder blades closer to each other. Bring awareness even to the armpits and see if you’re able to feel a stretch in the armpits as well.
Finally practice the Gomukhasana to get an intense stretch on the arms, shoulders, chest and shoulder blades. A lot of people tend to bend the elbow which is up (in the picture below the right elbow) forward. Actively push both elbows back. Elevate the spine. Push both feet into the floor for a greater lift. Hold it for 2 minutes on each side and you’ll start to feel your body opening up.