Downward Facing Dog Pose: How To Practice Safely

A few years ago, I made a rough estimate of how many Down Dogs I’d done throughout my entire yoga career. I started with an average week of practice. I multiplied by months, and then years, omitting for vacation, holidays and down time.

The number? A staggering 10,000!!

Downward Facing Dog is a vital link in every single Sun Salutation, making it a pose every yoga practitioner does regularly. Safe, healthy alignment in any yoga posture is crucial, especially one repeated so often.

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (it’ Sanskrit name) has many complex components: it is weight bearing in the hands and arms, it stretches the shoulders, the action of the upper back mimics a backbend, but the lower body feels like a forward bend, it frees the hamstrings, builds strength, increases stamina and calms the mind.

Let’s look at some of these details!

Downward Dog :: Under the Watchman in Zion National Park

Downward Dog :: Under the Watchman in Zion National Park


The Low Back

  • Healthy alignment in the low back means a neutral position —the low back will be long and straight, not rounded up towards the sky.
  • Tight legs can pull your lumbar region into an unsafe rounded shape —avoid this by bending your knees or allowing your heels to hover above the ground. (Only work on straight legs and heels down after you can keep your low back in a neutral position.)
  • To emphasize your lumbar curve in Dog Pose, tilt your pubic bone back between your legs, like you’re sticking out your bum, just don’t let your belly and ribs flare out in the process.

The Feet

  • Keep your feet hip-width apart and parallel, this makes your lower body more symmetrical and balanced.
  • When your feet are parallel in Down Dog, you won’t see your heels; they’ll be hidden behind your ankles.

The Shoulders

  • To keep your shoulders supported and safe, lift your armpits up, like you’re moving them towards your finger tips.
  • Deepen in the pose by creating a back bend in your thoracic spine (near the bottom tips of your shoulder blades) not by collapsing in your shoulders.

The Hands

  • Press all ten fingertips down, this protects your wrists by both engaging the muscles there and by preventing weight from dumping only into the heels of the hands.
  • Endure that the base of your index fingers, where they meet your palms,are in firm contact with the ground —this also supports your wrists and creates a more stable and safe foundation for your arms.



Editor’s note: This article was originally posted in early 2014, but has been edited and re-posted for its popularity and due to the essential nature of the posture.