How to do the Adho Mukha Svanasana Pose
- Start on all fours on the mat. Position your knees directly under your hips. Plant your hands on the mat, slightly in front and outside of your shoulders.
- Spread your fingers wide and root your palms firmly into the mat to protect your wrists. Point your middle fingers forwards or slightly outwards.
- Exhale. Tuck your toes under and straighten your knees, slowly coming up onto your feet. Gently press into your heels, bringing them towards the mat.
- Internally rotate your arms, bringing the creases of your elbows inwards. Press your ribs back towards your legs to open the chest. Roll your shoulders slightly up and back towards each other. This firms the back muscles and keeps the spine lengthened.
- Internally rotate your thighs by turning the front of your thighs towards each other. Picture an inward spiral of the groins.
Lift your hips up and back. If your heels touch the mat, push off them and your hands to bring your hips higher. Scoop your tailbone towards your navel – the pelvic tilt prevents sway back.
- Bring your head back, so that your ears are aligned with your upper arms. Rest your gaze on your feet.
- Breath and hold the pose.
- To leave the pose, exhale and drop your knees to the mat. On all fours, drop the hips to sit back into child’s pose (balasana).
Modifications and Props
Walk the Dog. This variation is great for the downward facing dog beginner. For a dynamic hamstrings stretch (particularly if your heels don’t touch the floor), bend the knees in rhythm with the breath in step eight (above). Start by inhaling and bending the right leg, pushing down through the left heel. Exhale and bend the left leg, pushing down through the right heel.
Sway. Work the heels towards the mat by shifting your weight from right to left. In step eight (above), exhale and shift your weight into your right leg. Lift your left heel off the ground to press deeper into your right. Inhale and shift your weight to the left. Continue with the rhythm of your breath.
Down dog yoga pose is an essential part of any sun salutation or moon salutation (chandra namaskara). Transition into down dog from cobra pose (bhujangasana) or upward facing dog (urdhva mukha svanasana) by exhaling, curling your toes under, and pushing through your hands to bring your hips into the air. On the inhale, jump or tiptoe forward into extended forward bend (uttanasana B).
Rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surrounds each shoulder joint. It is responsible for stabilizing the shoulder. Internally rotating the arm in down dog yoga pose engages the teres major and infraspinatus muscles in the rotator cuff.
Trapezius muscle. The trapezius muscle extends from the back of the head down to the shoulder blade. It is partially responsible for the gross motor movements of the head and neck. Dropping the chin and rolling the shoulder blades up and back in down dog yoga pose stretches the trapezius muscle.
Serratus anterior. The serratus anterior muscles are located on the sides of the chest, just below the armpits. They rotate the scapula when the arms are lifted above the chest. Pressing the chest back in down dog yoga pose lengthens and strengthens the serratus anterior.
Hamstring muscles. The three hamstring muscles – the semitendinosus, the semimembranosus, and the biceps femoris – run along the back of the thigh. They extend the hip, flex the knee, and rotate the lower leg. Down dog lengthens the hamstrings, improving their flexibility.
Triceps surae. The triceps surae consist of the gastrocnemius, in the back of the calf, and the soleus, in the front of the calf. These muscles stabilize the ankles and provide the power when walking and jumping. Pressing the heels back in down dog engages the two calf muscles.
Anterior tibialis. The anterior tibialis muscle runs down the front of the calf. It controls the backwards flexion of the ankles, the movement associated with dorsiflexing the foot. Pressing the heels to the floor in down dog engages the anterior tibialis.
Abdominal muscles. The abdominals are located in the lower belly, between the ribs and the pelvis. They control the tilt of the pelvis and the curve of the lower spine. Down dog works the transverse abdominus and the obliques deep in the sides of your abdomen.
Intercostals muscles. The intercostals muscles run between the ribs. They control the motion of breathing. Pressing the ribs towards the legs and expanding through the chest in down dog yoga pose lengthens the intercostals for better breathing.
Want to do a yoga move that works other body parts? Check out the plow pose for beginners.
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