How To Do Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) + 5 Benefits Of This Yoga Posture

If you asked someone who has never practiced yoga to name a yoga pose, chances are it will be this one – downward dog.

So why is the downward-facing dog such a well-known pose?

Well, aside from serving as a warm-up, transition, and stand-alone posture, the downward dog works the entire body, stretching and strengthening many muscles.

That's why I often tell my students, “If you only have time to practice one yoga pose, make it this one!”

Read on as I share the incredible benefits of this famous asana, along with detailed instructions on how to practice it safely and correctly. 

And whatever your level, I've got your back, as I'm sharing my favorite beginner and advanced modifications for Adho Mukha Svanasana.

(Click any link below to jump directly to section)

Downward dog offers many benefits, including being a complete body stretching and strengthening yoga pose. Here are some of the physical and emotional benefits of this popular yoga posture:

  1. Deeply stretches the leg muscles – Downward dog targets the hamstrings, calves, and Achilles tendon, lengthening all these muscles and reducing tightness and tension. 
  2. Strengthens the upper body—This pose builds strength in the shoulders, arms, wrists, and hands. It also helps you prepare for more advanced inversions and arm balances. 
  3. Improves spinal health – Downward dog stretches and elongates the spine, which helps to reduce back pain. It also opens the chest and shoulders, which helps to improve posture.
  4. Boosts energy levels – As an inverted yoga pose, the downward dog promotes blood circulation throughout the body and brain. It also stimulates the nervous system, helping you feel more alert and energized.
  5. Reduces stress – This is a beautiful pose for releasing tension in the neck, shoulders, and upper back (areas where stress is stored). The downward dog also helps to lower stress levels by clearing mental fog.

In terms of stretching, the downward dog pose targets the legs, specifically the hamstrings, calves, and quadriceps.

Meanwhile, for strengthening, it targets the upper body, particularly the deltoids, triceps, and shoulder girdle.

Adho Mukha Svanasana also targets the spine by stretching the back muscles, decompressing the vertebral discs, and improving spinal flexibility.

Sanskrit: ‘Adho Mukha Svanasana.' It consists of four words, each of which has a specific meaning:

  • Adho = downward
  • Mukha = facing
  • Svana = dog
  • Asana = pose/posture

English: ‘Downward facing dog,' but many yoga teachers will call it ‘downward dog‘ for short.

The correct pronunciation of Adho Mukha Svanasana is “AH-doh MOO-kah sva-NAH-suh-nuh.” Note that the words in capital letters are the syllables you should emphasize the most.

Let's break down the pronunciation of each word:

  • Adho – The “A” is pronounced like the “u” in “cut,” and “dho” rhymes with “toe.”
  • Mukha – The “u” is pronounced like the “oo” in “food,” and “kha” is pronounced as in “khaki.”
  • Svanasana – The “sva” sounds like “swa” with a soft “v,” “NAH” rhymes with “ma,” and “suh-nuh” is pronounced with emphasis on the “suh” and a soft “nuh” at the end.

Listen to the correct pronunciation here with additional pointers.

Yogini in downward facing dog.

While the downward dog is not a challenging posture, there are numerous alignment mistakes I often see students making. While they may seem minor, they can potentially cause injury.

By following these step-by-step instructions, you can ensure you are practicing it correctly and safely:

  1. Start in a tabletop position on your hands and knees. Your knees should be directly under the hips, and your hands should be directly under the shoulders. 
  2. Spread your fingers, with the index finger pointing to the top of the mat. Press the palms firmly into the mat.
  3. Tuck your toes under, and on an exhale, engage your core to lift your knees off the ground, and push your hips back. 
  4. Keep your arms straight and press your chest towards your thighs
  5. Try to straighten your legs as you press your heels towards the ground (it's ok if they don't touch the floor!) If your hamstrings are tight, keep a slight bend in the knees to avoid rounding the spine.
  6. Relax your head between your arms, gazing in between your feet. Your ears should be in line with your upper arms.
  7. Focus on lengthening the spine by extending your tailbone toward the ceiling. You should have equal weight in your arms and legs. 
  8. Keep your arms, shoulders, core, and quad muscles engaged as you hold the pose for 5 to 10 slow and deep breaths.

If you're new to yoga and struggle to hold downward dog or cannot do the full version comfortably, try these modifications:

1. Bent Knees

The most common downward dog modification for beginners is to keep the knees bent. I recommend this modification to anyone with tight hamstrings or calves, as muscle tightness in the legs can cause roundness in the back (which is not what you want).

Bent knees are also a good modification for any yogi to take during their first downward dog of the day. This is because the first time you come into the pose, your muscles are still fairly cold, so you may not have full range of motion. 

2. Puppy pose

If you have weak or sensitive wrists or lack upper body strength, a more gentle alternative to the downward dog is puppy pose. You practice this posture in a kneeling position, so there is no weight on your arms and wrists, yet it still gives a beautiful stretch to the spine and shoulders.

3. Wall Down Dog

Another way to lessen the load on the upper body is to do downward dog against the wall. This will still give the shoulders, back, and legs an excellent stretch. 

To do this modification:

  1. Face the wall and place your hands roughly shoulder height and width apart.
  2. Walk your feet away from the wall as you lean forward.
  3. Avoid arching your back – keep your spine straight and press your hips back.

As the downward dog is a pose you practice in EVERY yoga class, once you become an experienced practitioner, you can start to find this asana boring and easy.

Luckily, there are ways to make it more challenging and exciting.

1. 3-legged dog

To strengthen the downward dog, lift one leg as high as possible, pointing the toes toward the ceiling. This will place additional weight on the other three limbs, working the muscles more. 

To try it, bring both feet closer together. Then, raise one leg for five breaths, release, and lift the other leg.

3. Revolved downward dog

This variation adds a twisting element to the asana, which increases the strengthening properties and aids digestion.

To do this modification:

  1. Shift your weight into your right arm, grounding the hand firmly.
  2. Lift the left hand and reach towards your right ankle or calve, grabbing it from the outside.
  3. Gently pull on your leg to deepen the twist, turning your chest to the right.
  4. Hold for a few breaths, and then repeat with the left hand. 

Despite being a beginner-friendly pose, the downward facing dog is unsuitable for some people. You should avoid this posture if you have:

  • Recent knee, shoulder, ankle, or wrist injuries
  • Recent surgery on any internal organ 
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome

You should also practice caution and avoid holding this asana for too long if you have high blood pressure.

I love Adho Mukha Svanasana because it’s a fantastic full-body stretch. It warms up and engages numerous upper and lower body muscles while helping to reduce tension and tightness. 

Although I have done more downward dogs over the years than I could estimate, I still practice it in every yoga session and include it in my warm-ups and cool-downs when working out.

Downward dog is a highly accessible and beneficial pose for yogis of all levels. It stretches the entire body, builds strength, and is a gentle introduction to inversions.

It's also a posture for any occasion. In the morning, the downward dog helps to wake you up, while in the evening, it clears the mental fog that accumulates throughout the day.

Some online yoga studios, online yoga teacher training programs, and brands that we write about may offer us a small commission should you decide to make a purchase or signup after reading our content. Thank you for enabling us to exist!


Gemma is a Certified Yoga Teacher of over 5 years. Aside from being a CYT 200, Gemma is also certified in Yin and Yoga Nidra. Gemma is passionate about sharing her expertise of yoga and wellness through words, guiding others along the path of personal and spiritual development. She is in LOVE with everything related to personal-growth and psychology. Aside from helping others find more peace and stillness, Gemma runs a kitten rescue project in Thailand, where she is currently residing. Gemma can be reached at, or you can connect with Gemma on LinkedIn.

The Yogatique