Yoga Tutorial: How To Do Downward-Facing Dog Pose

Downward Facing Dog Instructions

Downward-Facing Dog is one of the poses that we do in yoga a lot. It looks like an upside-down letter V, is frequently used as a transition pose, and is often referred to as a resting pose.

It may not seem like a resting pose at first, but, trust me, as you practice more and work on your strength and flexibility, it gradually becomes easier.

Trust me, it does get easier 🙂

Downward-Facing Dog Pose Basics

Level: Beginner

Type: Forward bend, extension

Stretches: Hamstrings, calves, shoulders, spine, chest

Strengthens: Arms, shoulders, legs

Gaze: Navel; if that feels uncomfortable for the neck, then gaze in between your thighs.

Benefits

Downward Dog develops both strength and flexibility. It stretches the entire back of the body and strengthens its upper part. It can relieve back and neck tension and neutralize the spine from forward folds and backbends.

By stretching and opening the chest and shoulders, it can be a great pose to improve your posture if you tend to slouch and round your shoulders.

Since Downward-Facing Dog is considered a mild inversion it also increases blood flow to the head and can serve as relief in case of bloating and menstrual cramps.

An inversion is a yoga pose where the heart goes above the head, such as, Headstand, Handstand, Forearm Stand, Shoulder Stand. Since your legs remain on the mat, Down Dog is not a full-blown inversion, but is frequently classified as a mild one as your heart is positioned higher than your head.

How to Do Downward Dog

  1. Start on all fours, in Table Top Pose. Position your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees below your hip bones. Look down at your knees; your feet should be directly behind them, so you shouldn’t be able to see them.
  2. Place your hands one palm’s distance forward (This distance is approximate and will depend on your height as well as your body to leg ration. Some people may need to move their hands forward an inch or two only (a few centimeters), some may not need to move them at all. Try and see what feels most comfortable for you.).
  3. Spread your fingers wide with your middle fingers pointing forward. Press your finger firmly into the mat. This will feel uncomfortable at first, but it’ll develop with time as you build more strength in your hands and forearms.
  4. Tuck your toes under, and, on the next exhalation, engage your lower belly and lift your hips up into an inverted V.
  5. Stretch your spine and bring your heels as close as possible to the mat.
  6. Turn your shoulders away from each other so that your armpits face the mat. Then, and move your shoulders away from your ears and lengthen your armpits.
  7. Relax your head and gaze toward your navel or in the space between your legs. Relax your jaw, and shake your head from side to side to relieve any tension you may have in your neck.
  8. Stay in the pose for five breaths or more. Lengthen your spine with each inhalation.
Downward-Facing-Dog-Shoulder-Placement

Modifications and Variations

  • Slightly bend your knees if you start rounding your back. However, make sure you’re still feeling a stretch in your hamstrings and calves.
  • You can transition into Three-Legged Dog by raising your leg up. Keep your hips and shoulders level. You can also bend the knee of the lifted leg and open the hip in order to stretch the hip flexors and your side muscles. Stack your hips on top of each other while squaring your shoulders toward the short edge of the mat.
  • If you are pregnant, you may find it more comfortable if you slightly widen your feet to accommodate your growing belly.
  • Try Dolphin Pose for an extra stretch in your shoulders and hamstrings.

Tips

  • Downward-Facing Dog can be hard on the wrists if you don’t engage your hands properly. To prevent wrist pain, avoid dumping weight onto the balls of your hands. Push through the outer edges of your hands, your fingertips, and bases of your fingers instead. Keep the centers of your palms off the mat. Imagine your hands being suction cups.
  • Don’t stress out if you’re not able to reach the mat with your heels. Focusing solely on that may cause you to round if there is not enough flexibility in your hamstrings. This can be hard on your wrists and shoulders. Be gentle with yourself and avoid causing unnecessary harm. Instead of placing your heels on the mat, first, make sure your back is neutral and try bringing your chest closer to your thighs. Keep working on the pose while maintaining correct alignment, and as your flexibility increases over time, your heels will too gradually come closer to the ground.
  • If you’re rather flexible, avoid having your chest sink to the ground but rather maintain a flat back.
  • Having a good-quality yoga mat helps, too. If you practice on a low-quality yoga mat that doesn’t have good traction, the likelihood of your hands and feet sliding is much higher. A good mat will prevent you from sliding, making the pose easier to hold and correct alignment easier to maintain. Check out how to choose a yoga mat.

Contraindications and Risks

Avoid Downward Dog pose or practice it with caution if you have wrist injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, or if you experience headaches, migraines, or high blood pressure.

Downward Facing Dog
Common Mistake in Downward-Facing Dog Pose

There are 10 comments

    1. Karina

      Hi, Kim, and thank you. Glad you found it useful. Yes! I too didn’t realize I was doing this pose wrong for years and I often see my students making these mistakes.

    1. Karina

      Thank you, Christina! Appreciate your feedback. I have a few of these written out and will definitely publish some more in the coming months.

        1. Karina

          Thank you so much, Vanessa! Your feedback means a ton! Make sure to check out the “Related Posts” under the pose posts and “Yoga Poses” category under “Categories” in the sidebar for more. 🙂

    1. Karina

      Hi Olivia, it’s hard for me to assess why that’s so without seeing you do the pose. However, my bet would be that you’re not engaging your hands. Make sure to press your fingers and palms into the mat. That will likely feel uncomfortable at first before you develop the tiny muscles in your hands, but it will get easier with time and will take pressure off of your wrists. Let me know if that helps.

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