Downward Facing Dog Explained With Restorative Yoga Modifications

by Aiyana Fraley
Downward Facing Dog Aiyana Fraley Yoga Instructor

If you’ve ever heard a yoga teacher guide you into resting in downward facing dog and you’re wondering if they misspoke, they didn’t. It is considered a resting pose — an active one but still a resting pose. Downward facing dog, down dog or downward facing are all names for adho mukha shvanasana, sanskrit for one of the most common yoga poses.

Downward facing dog helps build strength in the shoulders and arms. It also has other health benefits including alleviation of back pain and discomfort, reduces muscle stiffness, improves posture, increases circulation and warms up the body. There are several ways to do downward dog and I explain them below. This pose is very beneficial and can be done alone without a sequence. In fact, if your yoga for the day consists of holding downward dog for a couple of minutes, that’s  great!

Downward Dog On The Mat

The traditional form of downward facing dog you’ve probably have seen in many yoga classes is putting the body in the shape of an upside down V on a yoga mat. The hands are pressed against the mat, fingers spread wide and feet are about hip distance apart. Knees are straight but not locked. One of the aims in this pose is to lengthen the spine reducing any curvature in the lower back.

In this form of down dog, you will work on bringing the heels toward the floor and stretching the spine by pushing the tailbone back as you bring the chest toward the thighs. Hold the posture for at least 5 breaths.

This pose is a resting pose in many yoga sequences and although in the beginning it may not feel like a resting pose, with time and practice hanging out in downward facing dog will feel natural and restful. To release the pose, bend the knees and come into tabletop position.

Downward Facing Dog Knees to Chest Prep

Downward dog prep: come onto the toes and brings knees to chest.

Downward Facing Dog On Toes

Downward dog prep: straighten the knees.

Downward Facing Dog Aiyana Fraley Yoga Instructor

Downward dog prep: bring the heels toward the floor and melt chest toward the thighs.

Downward Dog On The Wall

Downward dog on the wall is an excellent place to start if you are building shoulder strength, recovering from an injury or want to create a strong foundation in your posture before taking it to the mat. Bring your hands to the wall and slowly step back until your arms are fully extended and upper body parallel or as close to being parallel as you can get them. Make sure your hips are stacked over your legs. Your gaze will be to the floor.

Begin to settle into your down dog and feel the sensations along your spine, shoulders and arms. If working on strengthening, activate your arms and shoulders and bring your navel up and in toward the back of the spine. Relax into your stretch for five deep breathes and work your way up to holding it for 2-3 minutes. To come out of the pose, walk your feet towards the wall while lifting your upper body into a straight spine position.

Downward Facing Dog On Wall Prep

Down dog on the wall: place hands flat against the wall and bring feet about hip distance apart.

Downward Facing Dog On Wall by Aiyana Fraley Yoga Instructor

Down dog on the wall: start to walk feet back and slide hands down until upper body is parallel to the floor. Then melt chest toward thighs.

Benefits Of Downward Facing Dog

1. Energizes the body and builds internal heat. Excellent as a warm up to your yoga practice and transition in between poses.

2. Boosts circulation and lymphatic drainage. Since the head is below the heart, this pose helps pump fresh blood through the body improving circulation and assisting the body in flushing out toxins.

3. Increases strength and flexibility. Downward facing dog is an all-in-one workout. It strengthens your shoulders, arms, wrists and hands, while increasing flexibility in your hamstrings and calves.

4. Alleviates back pain. This pose improves posture and reduces pressure in the lower back helping your spine be healthy and pain free.

5. Strengthens bones. Bones are stacked and aligned in down dog promoting them to fortify and become less brittle over time.

6. Reduces stress and promotes relaxation. It takes concentration to be in this pose because your body is active in all limbs, your core is engaged and you’re working your shoulders. Since your body is preoccupied with all of that, your mind have a moment to relax and focus on the breath. These actions promote a state of relaxation.

If you have any questions about downward facing dog, leave a comment below or email me at I offer private yoga sessions in-person and through Skype for those of you who are interested in mastering this pose and many others.

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