Yoga Basics: Downward Facing Dog (Adha Muka Svanasana)

In today’s tutorial, you are going to get an in depth look at Downward Facing Dog.  In sanskrit this pose is called Adho Muka Svanasana. This is a basic yoga pose found in many “flow” type classes and can be quite a challenge if you have tight hamstrings, shoulders and low back.   Believe it or not, this pose can actually cause injury to a person’s shoulder (I’ve seen it done before, when they weren’t listening to the cues you’ll find here).

You may be wondering why I am posting about such a “basic” pose, and including a video–that’s because as a yoga teacher, I see people practicing these basic poses incorrectly, dare I say dangerously all the time, and I want to make sure that you don’t make the same mistakes.  Plus, in today’s digital world, more and more people are practicing at home without the eye of a knowledgeable, trained instructor (oftentimes leading to really REALLY bad habits), so my hope is that I can share a bit of my knowledge with you so you won’t hurt yourself (1) and so you don’t create bad habits (2).

Let’s talk about one thing here.  I am an Ashtanga Yoga Teacher. All my major yoga trainings have been Ashtanga based, whether it was my 200 and 500 hour Teacher Training under a Baptiste Certified teacher, my Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Training under Donna Feiner, a level 2 authorized teacher, and most recently, under my current teacher, Manju Jois who authorized me to teach Ashtanga Yoga.  All my training follows this lineage, therefore all my cues, alignment proclivities, etc are derived from the Ashtanga Yoga Lineage.  Yoga is thousands of years old and has been taught by the oral traditional and with the teacher/student relationship. It is only this century where yoga books have popped up all over and in mass quantities.  

Yoga itself, wasn’t even really in the states themselves until the second half of the 19th century–so that means there is a LOT of information out there.  The information I share with you today is based off my experience, my training, and my lineage, which is Ashtanga Yoga as taught by Sri Pattahbi Jois, through his son Manju Pattahbi Jois.

Downward Facing Dog pose can be a pretty difficult pose especially if you are a runner, weight lifter, or just a super tight person naturally.   The hamstrings and low back really have to work hard and lengthening in the pose while conversely, you have to really hold your belly muscles tight while trying to simultaneously stretch and keep active the shoulder muscles.  (which I know sounds sorta funny, stretch and contract a muscle, but if you’re at all on the mobile side–the secret key to this pose is the contraction with stretch of the shoulders to protect yourself from injury.

Click HERE for the video demo:

This is a basic yoga pose found in many different types of yoga classes and has many different ways you can practice.  In this video, Jennifer talks about “best practices” you can do to help keep your back and hamstrings safe and pain free.

Key points to remember when practicing Downward Facing Dog Pose:

1) Feet are about hips width distance apart, heels reaching for the ground.

2) Hands are about shoulder’s width distance apart.

3) Your knees can be bent as much as you need for comfort.

4) Press your thumb and pointer finger into the mat to help provide relief for the outside of your wrist (most people collapse all their weight on the outer edges of their hands and that = wrist and elbow and even shoulder pain down the road!)

5) Your gaze is to your belly button but if that’s too much on the neck, it can be between your knees

6) Draw your belly button to spine (to engage your abdominal muscles)

7) Hold your shoulders down and away from the ears.

8) Try to tuck your ribs in (to encourage abdominal muscle engagement)

9) Don’t sink your chest towards your thighs

Remember, always keep your stomach muscles engaged and I never like the swan dive or flat back entrance or exit from this pose –especially if you have a sensitive low back.  This pose helps to open up the back body and creates length in the hamstrings, calves and back.

Did you give it a try?  What did you think? Was it a little harder now that you took a minute to break every little thing down and focus on the muscles?  Keep practicing, it does get easier.

If you would like to learn more about Jennifer or if you would like to practice with Jennifer in person and you’re in the Chattanooga, TN area, come to Thrive Yoga and Wellness.  We offer almost 40 classes each week in a variety of modalities from beginners to advanced, to chair and seniors all the way to super physical HIT yoga.  It’s a great studio in the suburbs with ample parking and the community vibe even the folks at Cheers would be proud of. (How’s THAT for showing my age?!?!)

Or if you’re not in the area and still want to practice with me, you can totally do it for free, virtually.  I even have a free free 5 day HIT (High Intensity Training) Yoga challenge you can sign up to do and get 5 free HIT Yoga classes delivered straight to your inbox.  It’s a lot of fun and a lot of work. You’ll take your yoga skills and strength to a whole new level and be sore in the best possible way that you won’t want to stop on day 5!  I can’t wait to practice with you!

In the video, I was practicing on my still kicking Manduka Eko Mat. (that is an affiliate link, it doesn’t cost you a dime but it helps out a small business, so thank you!)  I wrote a blog post about this killer mat several months ago and if you’d like to check it out and why I love it so much, go here.
This post was written by Jennifer Dixon MBA ERYT 500 and Authorized Ashtanga Yoga Teacher.  She is the lead teacher in the Thrive Yoga and Wellness 200 hr Yoga For Every Body Teacher Training program: the Chattanooga area’s ONLY modular 200 hr Yoga Alliance approved Teacher Training program that allows you to train when YOUR schedule allows.  With two semesters each year and plenty of opportunity to practice and train year round, this is the BEST yoga teacher training program for busy folks.  Gone are the stresses about missed training weekends, you don’t have to worry about exhaustion and tears from super long intense weekend trainings every month–with the Thrive Yoga Teacher Training program, you train when your schedule allows and live your best life now.  Yoga Teacher Training should be fun, come practice with us and let us show you how!  Another great perk of training at Thrive? You get an unlimited membership to the studio for one full year while you train!  NO ONE ELSE offers this amazing deal (worth $1100!) and it’s the PERFECT way to get the training you want with the practice you need.  Our next semester starts in August of 2019! See you on the mat soon!