Deconstructing Downward Facing Dog

We’re super happy to have Leslie Schipper join our team here at Vibrant Wellness Journal. She will be writing weekly columns focused on foundational yoga poses and will offer up other insights into yoga practice too. Not only is Leslie a talented yogi (that’s her in the photos) and gifted teacher here in Honolulu, she’s a wonderful writer. You can learn more about this lovely lady on her personal blog, Forever Stoked. Check out some of her other work about mudras, learning from teaching, and the importance of devotion

In my opinion, Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) is one of the most deceiving poses out there.  My first teacher said this pose was a “resting pose.” Oh really? Child’s pose is a resting pose. Downward dog is work! Hanging out in the posture, I can list off multiple reasons my body and mind is not at ease or peace. My wrists are hurting, my arms feel weak, and beads of sweat are dropping from my forehead and onto my mat (where I so desperately want to be laying.)

Downward Facing Dog is a pose that you will come back to again and again and again (and again), so it is important to understand the component parts and make sure we are practicing with proper alignment. Even after my 200 hr teacher training, I continue STILL to find refinement in this classic pose. And for my debut post here on Vibrant Wellness Journal, and our first “Yoga Asana” of the week, I thought it would be helpful to break down the basic principles of Adho Mukha Svanasana.

Starting in table top position, first check out your hands. Make sure that both hands are right underneath the elbows, and the elbows right underneath the shoulders. Spread your fingers wide and press firmly down into the entire span of your hands (this will help take the pressure out of your wrists and keep them happy and healthy).

downward facing dog pose
keep the knees bent in the first stage of Downward facing dog pose

Curl the toes under and shift the hips back while keeping high up on the toes and the knees very bent.  This is the first krama (stage) for downward facing dog. Keeping the knees bent will release the lower back and lengthen the tailbone. This is a great place to start exploring and slowly release the hamstrings (those big muscles on the backs of your thighs). The shoulders are externally rotating, creating more space in the upper back. This allows the neck to relax easily and the shoulder blades to move down the back.

downward facing dog pose
straighten the legs while keeping high on the toes for the second stage of Downward Facing Dog pose

Moving into the second krama, gently begin to straighten the legs if it feels good for your hamstrings and remain high on the toes. Look back at your feet and make sure they are placed hip-distance or wider apart, the outer edges of the feet parallel. From here, firm the thighs and press the tops of the femur bones back to lengthen the spine. Rotate your upper thighbones inward slightly.  Continue to press firmly down through the entire span of the hands and and length of your fingers.

downward facing dog pose
root your heels to the Earth in the full expression of Downward facing dog

Yes, it’s a lot to think about! And we still have one more krama to go. Thankfully from krama two, the final expression of downward facing dog is simply dropping your heels and rooting them to the Earth. But you’re still not done. Are you breathing? Hopefully in between all the instruction and cues you continued to take long deep inhales and full complete exhales. Maybe you forgot..? Here’s your chance. Come back to your breath and let it infuse your entire body with calm energy.  After a few rounds of breath, open the knees wide and drop them down to the mat. Shift the hips back, allow your forehead to come down to the Earth, and rest in Balasana (child’s pose).

With regular practice, arm, shoulder and back strength develop enough so that this WILL feel like a resting pose. I promise. Until then, try not to be overwhelmed by the cues and instructions. Pick something to focus on for each practice, and bring your attention to that action every time you are in downward facing dog. (Now that I’ve given you so many to choose from!)

Thanks for reading our new weekly column. Please check back next week when we deconstruct another asana. See you on the mat! Namaste.





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About Leslie Schipper 21 Articles
Leslie is a free-spirited, wanderlusting yogini living a life of love and blessings. She feels extreme gratitude to call Hawaii home, surrounded by strong spirit and beauty. Her time is split between roaming the island's breathtaking mountain ranges, nurturing her healthy obsession with the sea and planning her next adventure. She completed her 200 hour teacher training from Open Space Yoga in Honolulu and is excited to share her passion and knowledge of the sacred tradition. Her ambition is to inspire, give thanks perpetually and continue globe trotting- sharing and spreading aloha and yoga wherever her feet find her.

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