Derived from the roots Adho = down, Mukha = face, Svana = dog. Thus, AdhoMukha refers to keeping the face in the downwards direction. Additionally, this pose seemingly resembles a dog who stretches itself with head and forelegs in the downward direction and the hind legs in the upward direction, hence its full name.
How to perform Adho Mukha Svanasana
- Rest in child’s pose on the ground with the arms outstretched. Place your palms to the ground, shoulder width apart. Have the middle finger facing forward and and draw an imaginary straight line between the thumbs, stretching out through the webbing of all the fingers and the anatomical snuff box between the index finger and thumb. Suction through the centre of the palms to protect the wrists, practicing ha hasta bandha. This will also assist in scapular stabilisation. By suctioning through the centre of the palm you may stimulate a marma point called tala-hridaya marma, which governs the flow of prana from heart to hands, assisting the movement of vyana vayu which may assist in circulating lymph and blood around the body, according to yogic physiology. From a more scientific standpoint, we can refer to the science of psycho-neuro-immunology here. When we place mindful attention into the limbs of the body, we may increase the blood and lymphatic flow. This understanding comes from the science of psycho-neuro-immunology. We can try and control blood flow through yoga asana, breathing and even our emotional states, so relax into a down face dog and practice self compassion.
- When you come up to the down face dog, try to keep your chest and heart close to the ground to really strengthen the shoulders. Avoid throwing your body weight forward when you raise the hips. As you come up from the child’s pose, avoid moving the feet forward on the ground. Use the child’s pose foot placement to down face dog movement to determine the distance of your feet from your hands. You may choose to separate the feet slightly to hip width apart, but do not move them forward. Rather challenge the hamstrings and have the heels pressing towards the ground, even if they don’t touch.
- Allow your head to hang so that your biceps and your ears aline. Use the support of a bolster under the head if you wish.
- The legs could be kept straight, with the quadriceps strongly engaged. “For example, in a downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana), there is often a sensation of “tightness” in an area like the hamstrings. However, it may not be the hamstring’s fault from a mechanical restriction perspective and, instead, could be a motor control problem wherein the person can’t find their hip flexors to help pull them into more flexion at the hip. Another possibility is that the hamstrings simply need to learn how to lengthen eccentrically without a perception of threat or guarding. And if flexibility is the goal, we know that eccentric contractions can contribute to flexibility while also increasing strength. A win-win.”( Source )
- For others the knees could be kept deliberately bent to increase the load on the hamstring TENDONS and create better tensile strength longer term. Do note that: “Protecting the hamstrings tendons from injury based on knee joint angle is not a consideration because hamstring tendon strength is not dependent on knee joint angle. Hamstring tendon strength is dependent on the loading history of those tissues.” (source)
- The feet could be kept parallel to each other with the big toes squeezing towards one another and the heels squeezing away from one another. This provides a gentle Bhandha at the hips, kati bhandha.
- The soles of the feet and heels could be working towards resting on the ground, but do not make this the ultimate goal.
- Hold in this pose for at least 60 seconds while breathing gently into a soft belly. Exhale to complete the pose and return the body to the child’s pose.
Adho Mukha Svanasana Benefits
- Adho Mukha Svanasana helps in reducing the heart rate due to the mild inversion. This will help in managing heart rate variability which is useful in relieving the stress and symptoms of mild depression and anxiety.
- This inversion may be very helpful in relieving headaches. Inversions are fantastic for those of us who suffer tension headaches caused by vasodilation (usually 90 per cent!). Headaches of tension variety are often caused by vasodilation of the arterial vessels. Inversions will decrease arterial dilation by slowing the heart rate. Dilation of arteries and arterioles leads to an immediate decrease in arterial blood pressure and heart rate. This gentle inversion is a wonderful start to the recovery from headaches.
- Adho Mukha Svanasana is said to be helpful for insomnia. Whilst there is little evidence to support this claim directly from the posture itself, the inversion will induce the relaxation response as the baroreceptors in the neck reduce heart rate when it is recognised that the head is below the heart. A longer out breath practiced here will also assist the relaxation response and lower stress levels. A new study indicates that yoga can help to improve sleep among people suffering from chronic insomnia and ‘an evening yoga practice was linked to significant improvements in sleep efficiency and a decrease in the frequency of individual nights of insomnia’.
- Adho Mukha Svanasana stretches the hamstrings and calves, spinal muscles, fascia of the back.
- Adho Mukha Svanasana strengthens your quadriceps and ankles and can assist with creating better arches for those who suffer from fallen arches, foot collapse or flat foot.
- Adho Mukha Svanasana strengthens the arms and wrists when practiced correctly, and it provides better range of motion in the shoulder joint.
- Adho Mukha Svanasana posture may assist in reducing high blood pressure.
- Adho Mukha Svanasana posture may also assist sciatica by tensioning the sciatic nerve.
- Adho Mukha Svanasana posture may assist in reducing chronic pain if within the patient’s range of motion, employing mindfulness techniques into the area of the body that is experiencing pain. Research also shows us that compassion meditation may also be employed to reduce back pain and this can be used during the practice of down face dog.
- Adho Mukha Svanasana may increase the circulation of lymph—a clear, watery fluid that moves through the body picking up bacteria and viruses and filtering them out via the lymph nodes. Lymph moves with muscular contractions.
- The gentle inversion will also affect the movement of lymph which is also affected by gravity. Whenever your head is below your heart lymph moves into the respiratory organs, where germs (bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa) often enter the body. Upon your return to an upright position, gravity drains the lymph, sending it through your lymph nodes for cleansing. Breathe through your nose for best results, which will increase nitric oxide (NO). NO is involved in the health and function of the nervous system, having the incredible ability to kill bacteria and viruses.
- Adho Mukha Svanasana helps in recovery from fatigue and the inversion restores pranic energy or flow in individuals who may be physically exhausted
- Adho Mukha Svanasana restores the flow on udana prana form heart to head through the inversion
- Adho Mukha Svanasana restores the flow of vyana vayu from heart to limbs
- Adho Mukha Svanasana may be helpful in healing headaches, sinusitis, tinnitus and depression as it may increase the flow of tarpaka kapha, the kapha around the head and sinuses.
Contradictions & Cautions
- Individuals suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome or sore wrists should avoid this pose.
- During pregnancy, it is wise to avoid this pose in the later stages unless practiced regularly prior to the pregnancy.
- Adho Mukha Svanasana causes an increase in intraocular pressure, therefore should be cautioned against people who have cataracts, or detached retina. “Intraocular pressure: A new study found that when people did head-down poses, their IOP increased within one minute of doing each pose. The increase remained throughout each two-minute pose, then IOP returned to baseline within two minutes of the person sitting down. ‘For people with glaucoma, the optic nerve is compromised to some extent. Once the nerve becomes damaged, its ability to withstand repeated acute IOP elevations is reduced,’ says Murray Fingeret, O.D., chief of the optometry section, Brooklyn/St. Albans Campus, Department of Veterans Administration, at New York Harbor Health Care System, and a founding member and past president of the Optometric Glaucoma Society. What this paper showed is when a person puts him or herself in a position where his or her head is lowered, the eye pressure goes up and the eye pressure goes up fairly quickly. You’re looking at a greater than 10-point increase that occurs almost immediately.” (Source)
- Adho Mukha Svanasana can cause an increase in intracranial pressure (ICP). Therefore should be cautioned against people who have brain aneurysms, tumours or strokes or symptoms associated with increased ICP.
- Those who have high blood pressure who are not on medication should be careful with this pose.
- Adho Mukha Virasana
- Plank Pose
- Standing poses
- Adho Mukha virasana
If you have difficulty with the range of motion in your shoulders in the posture, raise your hands off the floor on a pair of blocks that are placed against and supported by a wall. Alternatively, rest your hands on the seat of a metal folding yoga chair.
You may raise one leg high for 30 seconds on each side, changing the posture to eka pada adho muka svanasana, the one legged down face dog.
Modifications and Props
Head and Neck:
Place a bolster under the head to support the head and neck and relax the scalp muscles and the neck.
Yoga Belts: Take a yoga belt or strap to your elbows, loop and secure it around your arms just above your elbows.
For those who hyperflex at the elbow joint, it is best to use a strap and press the elbows into the belt in an outward motion. This will prevent long term damage to the ligaments and bones of your elbow.
For those wishing to increase the range of motion in the shoulder joint and have resistance in this area, you want to move the elbows away from the belt and try and loosen the belt as you externally rotate the upper arm.
For those who are hyper flexible in the shoulder joint, place two blocks, one under each forearm and left the forearm away from the bricks to increase strength in the shoulder muscles and prevent hyperflexion.
If your wrists are in pain when practicing, roll the mat up in front of you and place the heel of the hand on the rolled mat and the fingers on the floor to elevate the angle of the wrist.
Raise your feet up on bricks to elevate the hips. Really lift from the front of the hips and carry the weight down into the feet. Alternatively, have someone lift you from the upper thigh or hip region with their hands or with a belt to assist in taking weight from the wrists and shoulders.
Deepen the Pose
To increase the lift of your spine, lift the shin bones.
Try and lift the inner ankle to the outer ankle to increase the arch support of the feet. Lift the inner knees, the inner groins and the pelvic floor.
Hold a brick between the thighs and squeeze. Line up the knees directly over the big toes to avoid excessive internal rotation, especially for those who have knock knees.
Try and practice internal rotation of the upper arm in the down face dog when you have the full range of motion in the shoulder girdle. This will give you more “lift” in down face dog and is recommended for advanced students or those who feel this may be helpful in preventing pain to an injury.
© Celia Roberts
All research and literature based on original documents written by Celia Roberts. This manual and the information contained within it is not to be copied, replicated, or distributed without permission. Images and additional information has been sourced from Light on Yoga by B.K. Iyengar, yogajournal.com, yogajournal.com.au for your convenience.