Downward-Facing Dog, also known as Adho Mukha Svanasana, is a classic yoga pose that provides a subtle inversion as the head humbly bows to gaze between the legs. 

This pose elicits the playful bow dogs engage in by raising the sit bone high into the air, gently arching the back and opening the arms wide and welcoming. Often used in a Sun Salutation, Adho Mukha Svanasana mimics a resting pose that manages to keep the body just active enough while still providing relief from a rigorous yoga sequence.

Benefits of the Downward-Facing Dog

Downward-Facing Dog uses a backbend to open the shoulders and chest while the fingers spread wide and press into your yoga mat. The calves, which are often forgotten about, can begin to loosen after a long day of tensing the body. 

This pose increases flexibility in all the major muscle groups while simultaneously increasing strength in the arms. 

You can feel the energy flow through the body and to your head, bringing a sensation of peace to the mind.

Chakras involved in Adho Mukha Svanasana

Adho Mukha Svanasana brings the prana to concentrate in the Sahasrara, or crown chakra, located at the top of the head. 

If the root chakra works to ground the self to the physical plane, the crown chakra, the seventh of the major chakras, brings the self to transcendence where peace and joy are experienced. 

When the crown chakra is unbalanced, you may feel lonely or disconnected from the world. By engaging in Downward-Facing Dog and activating the Sahasrara, the barriers between you and the universe will melt away until you feel at one with everything around you.

How to practise Downward-Facing Dog

1. Downward-Facing Dog is typically easiest to enter from a table-top position. With the knees and hands connected to your yoga mat, arms are in line with the shoulders and legs hip-width apart, bring your focus on tucking the tailbone in slightly while bringing the neck in line with the spinal column.

2. Once you feel properly supported, you can begin to lift the buttocks into the air, letting the back body follow and the legs naturally unfold from a table-top position. The arms will stretch forward and you may find you have to adjust yourself slightly to find your ideal posture.

3. Check in with each part of the body. The palms can be placed on either edge of the mat with the fingers open wide to help balance the arms and core. The head can be tucked into the chin so the eyes can see what is behind the body.

The back arches upwards, and depending on your flexibility, there could be a small drop in the lower-to-middle back. You can play with this position by rounding the lower back slightly to arch the shoulder blades.

The legs can be bent and as you relax your body into the pose the heels will gradually reach the ground.

4. To come out of Adho Mukha Svanasana, you can begin to lower the knees back to table-top position. Drag the hands closer to the body and shift the knees until they are in direct line with your hips.

The neck will lift until it forms a line with the spine and tailbone. It is always wise to come out of any inversion slowly as rushing the blood through the body can cause dizziness.

Tips for Beginners

1. Beginners can feel free to generously bend the legs and forget about connecting the heels to the ground until ready. Instead, bring your focus on stretching the back and opening the upper body. Flexibility in the legs will come with practice and patience.

2. Aim to keep your legs closer together and your arms turned outwards as if welcoming the world in a gentle embrace.

With the fingers spread as far as is comfortable and the palms pressed into your mat to support the upper body, you can aim the insides of your elbows outwards which will force the chest to stay open rather than crunch in on itself.

3. To begin loosening the calf muscles, walk the feet in place by pressing the heel down one at a time. Forcing the feet to the ground will not benefit anything – instead, see where your body's abilities can take you.

4. If going through a Sun Salutation and expected to rise from Cobra to Downward-Facing Dog, find a way to meet in the middle. Beginners will likely prefer to enter this pose from a table-top position which tends to be easier on the body.

From a table-top, you only have to lift your buttocks up and back and readjust the arms and legs to find yourself in Adho Mukha Svanasana.

Optional Props to help you practice Downward-Facing Dog

1. If you are concerned about holding up your feet or your calf muscles are especially tight, you may wish to place one yoga block under the feet to help hold up the back of the foot.

2. If practicing Downward-Facing Dog is difficult to do from the ground, you can choose to place the hands on the sides of a steady chair (prop it up against a wall so it doesn't slide) which will still give you the fantastic back-bending benefits of Adho Mukha Svanasana.

3. Some people feel uncomfortable letting their head droop when in this inversion. If that's you, you can feel free to add a stack of yoga blocks or propped up bolsters to rest the top of the head upon.

When to Avoid the practise of Adho Mukha Svanasana

Because you rely on supporting your own neck in this pose, you may prefer to avoid Downward-Facing dog if the neck is weak due to a recent injury. As always, listen to your body and consult with a doctor if looking to start yoga after surgery.

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