Downward Dog 101

I was ten years into regular yoga practice before I “got” Adho Mukha Svanasana, a.k.a. Downward-facing Dog. For that decade, my shoulder-alignment was passable, but it kept me from experiencing the fullness of the pose.

There is a reason Downward Dog is one of the most recognized poses in yoga. Despite the  differences between various types of yoga, Downward Dog tends to have a place in nearly all of them. When done right, it’s a relaxation pose, offering traction through the spine, bringing space between the vertebrae. It’s also strengthening, gently building the strength and stability of the shoulders (to take on arm balances if that’s where you’d like to go someday) and because it’s considered a weight-bearing exercise, it helps build bone density, particularly in the arms and shoulders. Meanwhile, it stretches the back of the legs from heel to hip, and encourages the natural hinge at the hip, which helps warm us up for the effective execution of any number of forward bends. You get the benefits of an inversion (improving circulation, clearing the head), without having to confront the challenges of a full inversion. By opening the chest, it counters the perpetual slump we tend to sag into. The list goes on.

Are you getting the full benefits of the adho mukha svanasana? The video and checklist below will guide you through the alignment so that you can all the sweetness out of the pose.   

Downward Dog Checklist:


–shoulder-width apart

–star-fish out the fingers to distribute the weight out of the heel of the hands,

–fingers grip the mat creating a lightness in the center of the palm.

–root down particularly at the base of the index finger and thumb;


–maintain the alignment between shoulders and hands

–shoulders are broad across the back

–wrap the triceps (upper arms) externally so the elbow creases tend toward the ceiling so that when you bend your elbows, they bend back toward the feet [This is the one that eluded me for years.]

–forearms wrap internally to bring weight more to the base of the thumb and index finger and less to the pinkie finger (do this by imagining you’re screwing the lids of wide-mouthed jars inward)


–hip width apart

–toes in line with ankles

–heels sink toward the mat (if they never get there, no worries)

–the space between feet and hands should be such that if you were to lower into plank, you wouldn’t have to readjust them at all


–anteriorly tilted (the top tipping forward)

–sit bones (anatomically: “sitz” bones, the twin lumps at the base of the pelvic bone) reach up and back forming a peak to the mountain of the body


–ribs move toward legs

–working toward a flat back (you may have to bend the knees to get there)


–thighs roll inward (to “spread” the hamstrings)

–lift the kneecaps


–ears can be in line with the upper arms

–eyes gaze toward the thighs (if not in drishti at the tip of the nose)





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