Yoga Pose of the Week: Downward Facing Dog

A weekly series to guide you through new yoga poses, and teach you something about ones you might already know. 

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) is one of the foundational poses for beginning an asana practice. As you transition between shapes you can use Adho Mukha as a place to ground yourself, reconnect with your breath, and find focus for the next movement. It is a beautiful shape that allows you to stretch your spine, shoulders, hamstrings, calves, fingers, and toes. At the same time, it builds strength through your arms and legs–making it both energizing and calming.

In a typical Vinyasa class you will likely revisit downward dog multiple times. And if you don’t have time for a full class, this is perfect for the “It’s-3PM-and-I’m-tired-of-sitting-at-this-desk-all-day” syndrome. Get up, stretch, release, strengthen, and refocus. It will make that last few hours of the work day much more tolerable.

To find Adho Mukha Svanasana, first come into Balasana (child’s pose). Settle yourself comfortably on your knees at the back of your mat. Keep the knees drawing together and pointing straight forward. Let your belly rest on top of your thighs as you sit your hips back on your heels.

From here, extend your arms long and press down through each knuckle and fingertip. Stretch your palms wide and send your breath into the space between your thumbs and index fingers. Strong, active hands will keep your downward facing dog supported. Next, tuck your toes, keep your knees bent, and lift your sitting bones back and up toward the sky as you lengthen your spine.

Continue to press down strong through your hands. To find the full expression of the pose, I like to keep my knees bent and shift my hips from side to side as I warm through my hamstrings and waist. Take several breaths to deepen and find your alignment. Be sure to keep your neck soft and relaxed between your shoulders without letting it hang loosely.

Now, find even more strength in your palms, breathe into your upper back so the shoulders can open up across your back and settle down towards your hips. Continue to extend through your spine and through your hamstrings. Bring a stillness to your posture and take five deep breaths. Let your Ujjayi breath support you here as you find an energized focus for your practice.

To come out of the shape, gently lower your knees to the ground and settle back into Balasana with your forehead connecting to the earth.

Emily Buchholtz is a yoga instructor in Portland, OR. She believes everyone can benefit from a little more yoga.