How To Do Downward Facing Dog
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Say it like this: AH-doh MOO-kah shvah-NAHS-anna
Adho Mukha means having the face downwards. Svana means dog.
This pose looks like a dog stretching itself with its head and front legs down and it’s hind legs up.This is one of the poses in the traditional Sun Salutation sequence but it is also an excellent stand alone pose, a transitional pose, a resting pose and strength builder.
Opens the backs of the legs.
All the usual range of movements during the course of a normal day bring tension to the back of the legs, resulting in tight hamstrings and calf muscles. With this pose you achieve the opening of the back of the legs without compromising other areas of the body. It strengthens the ankles and relieves pain and stiffness in the heels. Excellent pose for runners as it also strengthens smaller stabilising muscles in the feet which means that you react quickly to the terrain and transfer your weight effectively.
Strengthens and opens the chest. Too much sitting results in overly tight chest muscles but perhaps not overly strong muscles. We sometimes tend to hunch but practising this pose will help you to re-establish some opening in the anterior chest wall, and straighten shoulders that are too often rounded, perhaps because of too much time at a desk. This pose also encourages blood flow and serves to both energise and calm your body.
Elongates the spine
The traction you get from planting your feet and then pushing your hands strongly into the mat is one of the best spinal elongation tools that yoga has to offer. Using gravity the usual downward pressure on the spine is reversed which helps to gently realign the vertebrae in a natural way. Downward Facing Dog offers the benefits of an inversion without having to go fully upside down which is particularly good for anyone with neck or shoulder injuries or stiffness of the shoulder blades. Helps to ease arthritis of the shoulder joints.
Brings awareness to your breathing.
Your breath is what carries you, so awareness of it in the moment is a moment well spent. Perhaps you find the seated traditional meditation position to be painful or challenging so Downward Dog as a place to tune in is a great alternative. If you are tired, practising this pose helps with fatigue and gives extra energy. It can also help open the sinuses and allow the flow of mucus if there is any nasal congestion.
Strengthens the arms, shoulders and wrists.
Will increase your upper body strength in general and your arm strength in particular so long as you haven’t put your weight onto your chest and shoulders.
If you have really pressed your hands into the mat, you will engage all the muscles in the arms which in turn helps to bring strength and stamina to all the other muscle groups.This pose is considered to be a weight bearing exercise and therefore can help to manage osteoporosis.
When done correctly the benefits of this posture are almost limitless. It can relieve back pain, headaches, nausea, digestive problems, headaches and insomnia. As a partial inversion it calms the nervous system and relieves stress.
Come on to the floor on your hands and knees, set your knees directly below the hips and hands slightly forward of the shoulders. Rest your palms by the side of your chest making sure the palms are spread flat with fingers straight and pointing in the direction of your head. Your feet should be slightly less apart than your hips and parallel.
Exhale and lift your knees away from the floor, keeping them slightly bent. Now lift the heels away from the floor. Straighten your arms, moving the head inwards towards the feet, lengthening your tailbone away from your pelvis. Against this resistance lift the sitting bones towards the sky keeping your elbows straight. Lift the hips high as the legs straighten.
With an exhalation, push your top thighs back and stretch your heels down towards the floor. Straighten your knees but be careful not to lock them. Press your heels down to the floor. The heels and soles of the feet should ideally rest completely on the floor but may take practise. Keep the feet parallel to each other and the toes pointing straight ahead. Keep your head between your upper arms, don’t let it hang. Make sure the spine including the neck are in one long line.
Initially stay in the pose for half a minute focusing on the breath, breathing slowly and normally. Gradually increase the time spent in this pose for up to 3 minutes then exhale, lower the hands, bend your knees to the floor and relax into the child’s pose.
Author – Jacqui Austin