Step by step
- Start in an all fours position, with your hips above your knees and shoulders above your wrists.
- Bring your hands slightly forwards of your shoulders, with your middle finger pointing forward, spread your fingers.
- Think about creating a suction cup in the middle of your palm by pressing through the outer edges of the palm, the base of the fingers and the fingertips. This is Hasta Bandha.
- Create a spiral action in your arms by rolling your upper arms away from you and your forearms spiralling inwards (see Beginners’ tips for more detailed instructions).
- Tuck your toes under, and on an exhalation, engage your lower belly drawing the navel back to the spine. Press through your hands and lift your hips back and up to bring yourself into an upside-down V pose.
- Keep your knees bent at first as you find length in your spine.
- Slide your shoulder blades down along the spine, collar bones spread. The base of the neck relaxed.
- Maintaining length in the spine, ‘walk your dog’ by alternately bending and straightening your legs. Eventually bringing both heels towards the floor. They do not have to touch the floor.
- Stay for 5 breaths.
- To come out of the pose, bring your knees back down to the floor and come into Child’s pose or transition into a lunge by stepping one foot towards your hands.
- It’s more important to keep length in the spine than straight legs. So if you find you are rounding in your back or you are hunching your shoulders it’s fine to keep the knees bent as much as you need to.
- Keep ‘walking your dog’ as long as you need to, before coming into the full expression of the pose.
- Practise the spiral action of the arms while you are sitting on your heels. Read Marlene Henny’s advice on arm rotation in Downward Dog and watch her class on the topic for lots of tips.
- You can work on the pose by practising against a wall. Stand facing the wall about a metre / 3 feet away with your legs hip distance apart. Place your hands on the wall (use the same arm rotation as in the steps above). Walk your hands down the wall until your torso and arms are parallel to the floor.
Benefits of Downward Dog pose
- Strengthens the whole body – upper body, arms, shoulders, abdomen and legs.
- Stretches the back of the body, ankles, calves, hamstrings, spine.
- Calms the mind.
- Stimulates blood circulation.
- Downward Dog is a great pose to rest the spine between strong backbends and forward bends.
- With practice, Downward Dog can eventually become a rest pose to help you reconnect with your breath during strong Vinyasa or Ashtanga yoga classes.
Watch out for
- Make sure the knuckle of the first finger is firmly pressing down, to protect your wrists
- Shift your weight back into the hips.
- If you are hyper-mobile, avoid locking your elbows by keeping a micro-bend in your arms.
- Check if you are hunching up your shoulders – try nodding and shaking your head to keep your neck relaxed.
- Try a dynamic variation, lifting up onto the balls of your feet to find more length in the spine and lowering your heels down, maintaining that length.
- Try the Three-legged dog variation, lifting one of your legs up, keeping your hips level and your foot flex. Repeat on the other side.
- For more of a focus on the arms, loop a belt around your arms, just above the elbows and press against the strap. Same for the legs. Place a belt on your upper legs above the knees and work on active legs drawing thighs outwards.