Updated: Feb 29, 2020
Downward-facing dog (or adho mukha svanasana in sanskrit) is a yoga pose that stretches the whole length of your back, opens your chest, strengthens your shoulders and lengthens your hamstrings – in other words it’s a fab pose for working your whole body.
Downward dog features throughout a yoga class and is a semi inversion (an inversion means your head is below your heart).
We might take downward-facing dog at the beginning of class to help warm up our shoulders and the backs of the legs, but later it’ll also feature in the sun salute (surya namaskar) and can also be used as a resting pose between flowing sequences.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s great for stretching your back, and strengthening your upper body, but it’s also a really energising posture too.
While downward-facing dog has many benefits, take care with this one if you have high blood pressure. It can increase blood pressure in the upper body, so if you have high blood pressure, be sure to take plenty of breaks and come down onto the knees to rest.
Another thing to be aware of is wrist injury. Downward-facing dog might be quite a painful pose for you if you've injured your wrist and you might instead prefer to take the forearms down onto the mat instead.
How to do downward facing dog
Start in plank pose, making sure your wrists are underneath your shoulders and your ankles are over the toes. While in plank, keep your hips in line with your shoulders so your bottom isn't sticking in the air!
Once you’re happy with your plank, use an exhale to lift your hips up towards the sky.
Tilt your pelvis up towards the ceiling and lengthen down through your hamstrings.
Spread your fingers, making sure your middle finger is facing towards the front (short edge of your mat).
Broaden across the shoulders, rotating the tops of your arms externally to keep space across the shoulders.
To come down, use an exhale to lower your knees back down to the mat.
If you feel quite tight in your hamstrings, downward-facing dog can feel really tricky. Remember the key is to lengthen through the spine in this pose. If your back is rounding and your hamstrings are tight, take a bend in the knees to help lengthen your spine.