Let’s take an in-depth look at one of the most iconic yoga postures – Downward-Facing Dog! This is filled with potential for creativity and games!
Pose: Downward-Facing Dog
Sanskrit: Adho Mukha Svanasana (pronounced: AH-doh MOO-kah shvah-NAHS-anna)
Difficulty level: Beginner, Gentle-Inversion
Muscles involved: Back, Arms, Legs, Shoulders
Focus: Strength, Mobility
BENEFITS: Quite possibly one of the most known poses in yoga, downward-facing dog has many benefits to our body. This pose is great for stretching your hamstrings, calves, arches, and hands. Downward dog stretches and strengthens our entire body. This pose strengthens your arms, shoulders, and back. Downward dog is a mild-inversion pose, reversing the pull of gravity on your head and organs. Being in this position improves the mobility of your digestive system. This pose relieves back pain, headaches, insomnia, and fatigue (bonus for us). Downward Facing Dog is often used to transition and flow into many other yoga poses, both active and restorative.
Kid-Friendly Tip – Have kids get into the pose. Engage them by asking them to shout out the body parts that are being used to hold the pose. While in the pose, ask them what areas of their body feel the stretch. Take a moment to confirm the areas of the body that are engaged and share the benefits this pose has on our bodies. For instance, pretend to be carry a school backpack that’s too heavy and explain that this is a great pose to build strength in your back, arms and shoulders.
GETTING INTO THE POSE: Start on your hands and knees. Knees should be directly under your hips; hands and feet should be shoulder width apart. The wrists should be slightly in front of your shoulders. Index fingers should point straight ahead at 12 o’clock and press firmly through the hands. Prepare to lift your body by tucking in your toes and slowly lifting your hips towards the sky.
Walk your dog a few times before settling into the pose by pedaling your feet left, right, left, right. Keep your arms, neck, and spine long. Do not round the spine or arch your back. Hold the pose for several breaths. If the stretch feels too intense, consider bending the knees. You could start the pose with your knees bent, then slowly straighten the legs when they feel comfortable. Do not force the heels to the ground. Keep your gaze down, do not look forward as this will cause unnecessary strain to your neck. If at any point you are feeling uncomfortable in the pose, float your knees to the mat and slide back into child’s pose.
To build strength and flexibility, flow from child’s pose into downward dog, take 2-3 breaths and then return to child’s pose. Repeat this motion, stay connected to your breath and listen to your body.
Kid-Friendly Tip – Start in Cat/Cow pose and ask the kids if they can transform into a dog. Tell them to take their dog for a walk doing the right, left, right, left motion. For the more advanced kids, ask them if they can take their dog for a run and have them pump their feet quickly. Have them engage their core muscles by challenging them to transition from Cat/Cow to downward dog 5x or 10x up, down, up, down, up, down.
CAUTIONS AND MODIFICATIONS: If you have wrist problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis, you may want to consider placing a wedge under your palms or performing the pose on your elbows. Yoga blocks are another great option to use and elevate your hands. As a beginner yogi, you may want to start this pose using blocks and transition your hands to the floor gradually over time.
It is recommended that you avoid this pose if you have high blood pressure, eye/ear infection, or are in late-term pregnancy. As an alternative, consider placing your hands on a table, the back of a chair, or a couch.
TRY THIS FLOW: If at any point your feel light headed during this flow, retreat to child’s pose and rest.
- Standing tall in mountain pose and take a deep breath.
- Bring your hands to prayer pose and greet the day with Namaste.
- Take three deep breaths: inhale and raise the hands, in prayer upward towards the sky. Exhale by bringing your hands out and circle them down to your sides. Repeat motion 3x.
- Return to prayer pose, inhale, and glide your hands up towards the sky. Exhale and swan dive down into a forward fold.
- Inhale halfway lift with a flat back; place your hands on your shins. Exhale fold forward, plant your hands to the ground and step back into plank pose.
- Inhale in plank pose, exhale and lift hips towards the sky coming into Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward-facing dog).
- Pedaling your feet to stretch the calves: left, right, left, right.
- Float your knees down to the floor. Inhale into cat pose, exhale into cow pose. Repeat motion 3x.
- Engage your core by transitioning several times between Cat/Cow and Adho Mukha Svanasana. Inhale and exhale with each transition.
- Inhale in cat, exhale and glide back into Child’s pose. Stay here for a few breaths.
- Return to cat, inhale, tuck the toes, exhale and raise hips towards the sky back into Adho Mukha Svanasana.
- Inhale in Adho Mukha Svanasana, exhale lower the hips and return to plank.
- Inhale, plank, exhale and move the feet forward coming back into a forward fold.
- Inhale halfway, lift and exhale to a forward fold.
- Inhale, raise the head, look forward and exhale reverse swan dive.
- Bring your hands to heart center and close with Namaste.
STORYTELLER: Once upon a time there was a squirrel who loved yoga. Each morning the squirrel would wake up, go outside and stand tall in mountain pose. The squirrel would take in three deep breaths. The squirrel would greet the day by bringing [his/her] hands to prayer pose and saying Namaste. The squirrel would then reach [his/her] hands high to the sky and fold forward like a ragdoll. The squirrel would swing [his/her] arms from side to side to wake them up. Then the squirrel took another deep breath, gave the earth a high five and stepped back into plank pose. Next the squirrel raised [his/her] hips to the sky coming into downward-facing dog. The squirrel liked to pretend that he was taking his dog for a walk by pedaling [his/her] feet: right, left, right, left. While walking [his/her] dog, the squirrel would bark just like a dog: bow wow wow. *Option to teach Sanskrit name Adho Mukha Svanasana. The squirrel then inhaled and returned to plank pose. [He/She] would walk [his/her] feet toward [his/her] hands, coming back into ragdoll pose. The squirrel then tucked [his/her] chin towards the chest and rolled up the vertebrae at a time back into mountain pose. Looking around once more, [he/she] took a deep breath with hands in prayer and said Namaste.
Looking for more fun ways to explore downward dog? Check out Downward Dog 5 Ways!