Listen to your body in … Downward Facing Dog (Adhomukha Svanasana)

How you get on with particular yoga postures can tell you a lot about yourself. Your yoga practice can tell you how your body, mind and emotions are today – if you’re willing to listen!

Downward Facing Dog yoga pose
Downward Facing Dog

It’s particularly interesting to listen when you come across a posture you repeatedly struggle with, find more challenging than others, or one you resist practising. I’ve previously written about Sitting Forward Bend.

Another posture which can have its challenges is Downward Facing Dog.

For many years this was a posture which I rarely experienced beyond the physical aspect because I was always thinking about where my feet should be, telling myself I should have straight legs and worrying that I should be able to get my heels to the floor. So I’d find it difficult to relax and breathe into the posture.

So, why the struggle?

Well, it’s an inverted posture, which can be a bit scary for some. You may worry about balance and falling or not like the feeling of blood moving towards your head. Also, tight hamstrings and stiff shoulders can make the posture more physically challenging.

Looking back I’ve realized that I was so busy thinking about the posture I used to forget to breath.

On an energetic level, Dog helps us to let go of the past and brings you into the present.

If there are issues you are holding on to you could struggle with relaxing into this posture because, on an unconscious level, you’re not willing or able to let go and let the posture reveal its benefits.

In energetic terms, Dog’s main focus is the base chakra, or Mooladhara, which is related to feelings of security. Perhaps if those feelings are lacking, practising a posture which focuses on this area – and encourages the free flow of energy throughout the spine / chakras – can be a little over-whelming.

However, if we persevere with our practice the benefits of the posture can help to ease the conscious or unconscious fears or resistance we feel.

Tips to help in this posture

I’d advise you to focus on lengthening and flattening your back when practising this posture, rather than focusing on getting your heels to the floor, as this will enable the free flow of energy through your spine and help to release stuck energy from the lower energy centres.

So as you move into the posture, keep your knees bent as you lift your hips into the air, focus on lengthening and flattening your back. Also, focusing on lifting your coccyx (base of the spine) into the air can help you to lift the hips up more. Only then bring your focus to straightening your legs.

Also, stepping your feet further apart, e.g. to the width of your mat or slightly wider, can give a greater sense of balance and strength to lift through the legs and to enable you flatten your lower back more.

So focus on lengthening the back rather than getting the heels to the floor – your legs will begin to straighten and your heels get closer to the floor through regular practice.

How my experience has changed

Once the penny had finally dropped for me to focus on straightening my back instead of struggling and focusing on straightening my legs in this posture, my experience of the posture transformed.

Physically I’ve developed much more movement in my thoracic area and in lifting my hips higher – in turn this has actually helped me to straighten my legs more through repeated practice.

This has enabled me to feel much more comfortable in the posture allowing me to bring my awareness to the energetics of the pose.

For me this manifests in a feeling of opening in the chest area – and the heart centre – and a sense of strength and liberation.

How do you get on with Downward Facing Dog?


Stella Tomlinson teaches Dru yoga in Southampton, UK. Dru yoga is a flowing and therapeutic style of yoga, characterised by graceful movements, directed breathing, relaxation techniques and working with affirmations and visualisations. Connect with Stella via Facebook and Twitter.

5 thoughts on “Listen to your body in … Downward Facing Dog (Adhomukha Svanasana)

  1. Dog took me an AGE to get to like… for me, getting into the posture in the first place was a challenge, until my Dru teachers taught me the posture their way, with a bend in the knees as the hips and tailbone fluidly rise into the air. Then their flowing Dog, with its elliptical motion, giving another dimension to a classic asana.

    I had a tendency to struggle with keeping my coccyx high, lengthening my back and helping my legs to find their most comfortable way in the posture, until I read Su Sareen’s “See how yoga feels” – this is a wonderful book of visual ways to assist with common yoga postures, beautifully illustrated and described in practical experiential ways. Ideal for a visual person like me! For Dog, the magic was visualising (strangely!) a firm yet softly padded boxing glove gently pushing up the abdomen to raise the hips and coccyx high, and providing the body with gentle, leathery padded support to keep them there. And my heels don’t touch the floor, even with a wider stance – unless I put a bolster or rolled blanket there. Then they touch the floor, because I’ve made the floor higher so my body can just be :) I’ll swear they’re getting closer though.

    Dog is a posture my 1 year old son does often, and spontaneously! It’s such a joy to see him toddling around then stop, turn to look at me with a cheeky grin then drop down onto his hands and push his bottom high in the air and widen his feet… then pause… then down again, up and OFF! He’s seen me doing Dog, and it must take his fancy too. He does what his body is comfortable with, and he seems to like it! – but then he’s done yoga since he was in the womb. It was inevitable, really…

    1. Thanks for this! I’ll look out for that book you mention – I like to visualize things too. Will try imagining a boxing glove lifting me next time I practise Dog!

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