Adho Mukha Svanasana: Downward Facing Dog Pose Exploration

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By Ray Long, MD, FRCSC • March 3rd, 2011 • 42200 Views

Adho Mukha Svanasana:  Downward Facing Dog Pose Exploration

Adho Mukha Svanasana is both an inversion and an arm balance. It is the resting point in the Vinyasa sequence and serves as a barometer for the stretch at the backs of the legs as well as the shoulders. Flexing the hips and straightening the knees focuses the stretch on the hamstrings. You can dorsiflex the feet to emphasize the stretch of the gastrocnemius (which crosses the backs of the knees) and soleus (which crosses the ankles with the gastrocnemius). Straightening the arms to press the body back toward the legs indirectly deepens the stretch.

Address these basic movements first. From there you can focus on the nuances of Dog Pose, remembering that many of the most profound experiences of yoga take place with small, concentrated, and subtle movements. For example, pronating the forearms while externally rotating the shoulders creates a “coiling” helical effect up and down the lengths of the arms; this tightens the elbow ligaments and stabilizes the pose. Another subplot in the story involves opening the wings of the iliac bones to allow the sacrum to tilt forward. Do this by attempting to “scrub” the feet outward on the mat. This engages the abductor muscles in a closed chain fashion, moving their origins on the iliac crest. Engage the buttocks by attempting to scrub the feet away from the hands. Pronate the ankles by pressing the weight into the balls of the feet. Then lift the arches to spread the weight to the outer edges. This balance of eversion and inversion at the ankles stabilizes the pose from its foundation. You can use any or all of these nuances as you walk through and deepen the asana.

BASIC JOINT POSITIONS

  • The hips flex.
  • The knees extend.
  • The shoulders flex and externally rotate.
  • The elbows extend.
  • The forearms pronate.
  • The wrists extend.
  • The ankles dorsiflex.
  • The lumbar spine extends.
  • The cervical spine flexes.

Preparation

Adho Mukha Svanasana is practiced as a free-standing posture or as part of a Vinyasa sequence. If you’re using it in Vinyasa, then for the first few rounds, simply take the basic shape of the pose by flexing the hips and straightening the knees and elbows. This prepares the major muscle groups that are stretching. Once you are warmed up, begin adding synergist muscles to refine the pose, as described in the steps that follow. For the free-standing version, begin on all four. Get a feel for pressing the palms into the mat. Spread the fingers evenly...


Ray Long, MD, FRCSC

Location:  Baldwinsville, US

Ray Long, MD, FRCSC, began his study of human anatomy and science at a young age under the guidance of his father, David Michael Long Jr., MD, PhD, a cardiovascular surgeon and research scientist. He went...