Master This Move: Downward-Facing Dog

This is the yogi-est of all yoga moves (in North America, at least). Adho mukha śvānāsana (as it’s known more formally) is an incredible classic pose for mobility and body-weight strength and self-awareness.

For beginners

Downward-Facing Dog, or Down Dog, can be a challenging posture if you spend a lot of time sitting, but it’s also a fantastic stretch for the sciatic nerve and the back side of the body. Move smoothly at your own pace into the pose, and hold where you feel comfortable. Don’t push it—this isn’t about working harder.

Best practices

Master this: Downward-Facing Dog

  1. Begin in tabletop position, with arms straight, hands under shoulders and knees under your hips, toes on the ground. Bring your knees to hover off the floor.
  2. Straighten your legs, creating one long line from head to heels.
  3. Press into the floor with your hands and feet as you lift your hips up and back toward the ceiling.
  4. Let your neck relax and allow your head to sink down and align between your arms. Keep your gaze soft and look through your feet. Create a long, straight line from your hands to your hips and from your hips to your feet.
  5. Hold the pose for anywhere from three to 60 seconds or more (to your comfort), then gently release down to plank or tabletop and repeat if desired.

Make it easier: Lift up high on the balls of your feet and bend your knees softly to lengthen the spine and focus on the stretch in your back. Or bend one knee at a time and alternate bringing your heels off the ground, pedaling through your feet. You also can try this move with your hands on yoga blocks or a chair.

Make it harder: The goal is not harder, but to gain more understanding, space and alignment in the pose. You wake up Downward-Facing Dog through a roving focus on the alignment and the engagement and release of every muscle in your body. Practice building strength and endurance in the pose by holding it longer with a conscious breath and roving your attention through each square inch of your body, holding the pose and managing the thoughts that arise as you aim to maintain integrity of alignment.

Photo and video credit: Tom Casey,
Model: Chellie Thomas, GX24 Instructor and Personal Trainer at 24 Hour Fitness