Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana): Find Relief for Your Spine

Adho Mukha Svanasana, commonly called Downward Facing Dog, is a therapeutic inversion for your spine. Normally, to practice inversion (going upside down) and get traction (stretching the spine against gravity) to create relief for the spine, we go to a chiropractor or similar medical professional to strap us to a table and turn us upside down. However, with Downward Facing Dog, you can get many of those same benefits from the comfort of your own home.

**A word of caution to my pregnant friends, after your Week 34 of pregnancy, Downward Facing Dog can change your baby’s position. This is great if your baby is breech, but something to be cautious of if your baby is not breech.**

Modification to Prepare for Downward Facing Dog

  1. Come on to your hands and knees. Bring your hands to the front of the mat either in line with your shoulders or wider. If you have tight shoulders, your hands should be wider. You can go as wide as your yoga mat but not beyond that.
  2. After you have firmly placed your hands (meaning that you leave them there for the rest of this exercise), draw your low belly to your spine and position yourself so that your knees are right below your hips. You might have to walk your knees back a little bit  to accomplish this. Make sure that your hips are neither forward of nor behind your knees. 
  3. Lift your chest up slightly and shift your weight forward while keeping the abdominals engaged. Put a slight bend in your elbows. Rotate your arms so that the eyes of your elbows are facing forward then straighten your arms and lower back in to position. Notice a broadening sensation across your collarbones and the front of your chest.
  4. Rotate your pelvis so that you feel like you are really sticking your butt out to the wall behind you, and make sure you still have your abs engaged.
  5. Feel the energy in your arms as you press the floor away from you.
  6. Notice that your ears are between your biceps (upper arms).
  7. Let your heart soften and melt toward the floor. As you breathe, think “lengthen on the inhale, soften on the exhale.”

Downward Facing Dog

  1. downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)Let’s first take a moment to appreciate that the shape we are creating looks like an upside down “V,” not a “U.” This means two things:  the weight must be evenly distributed between the arms and the legs and the pelvis must be rotated out so that it feels like you’re sticking your butt out at the upper part of the wall behind you.
  2. Come on to your hands and knees, with you knees hip width apart. Place your hands at the front of your mat. Spread your fingers like a starfish and create a dome with the middle of your palm. Walk your knees back a little bit, curl your toes under, draw your low belly to your spine, and lift up like your hips are being lifted toward the ceiling for you.
  3. Keep a soft bend in the backs of your knees. Let your bent knees free your body to really rotate your pelvis up toward the ceiling. With your feet in this wider, outer hip width stance, you are able to create openness in the sacrum (tailbone). I highly recommend this wider stance for anyone with SI joint issues, pubic instability, or, of course, if you’re pregnant. If you’re more comfortable with your legs together or inner hip distance apart, you’re welcome to make that adjustment.
  4. Lift your chest up slightly and shift your weight forward while keeping the abdominals engaged. Put a slight bend in your elbows. Rotate your arms so that the eyes of your elbows are facing forward. Straighten your arms and lower back in to position, feeling a broadening sensation across your collarbones and the front of your chest.
  5. Feel the energy in your arms as you press the floor away from you.
  6. Notice that your shoulders are very far away from your ears.
  7. Check that your ears are between your biceps (upper arms).
  8. Let your heart soften and melt toward the floor. As you breathe, think “lengthen on the inhale, soften on the exhale.”
  9. Align and refine as you breathe. Check your alignment and make any corrections you feel are necessary. If you would like, you can pedal out your feel. When your hamstrings feel warmed up, draw the abdominals to the spine, lift the hips, and lengthen the backs of the legs (being sure not to lock the knees).

Here is a short video if you’d like a visual.

What modifications do you make for your Downward Facing Dog? Let me know in the comments below.

If you enjoyed this article, sign up for the newsletter to stay in the loop about what’s coming up.

Sarah Stockett is STOTT certified in Matwork, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, & Barrels, Injuries & Special Populations, and CORE; a Yoga Alliance RYT-200; and has studied Active Isolated Stretching. When she is not trying to discover the best exercises to get rid of pain, she likes watching movies and travelling with her family.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *