How much do you know about Downward Facing Dog?

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Anyone who is practicing yoga is no stranger to the downward facing dog pose (adho mukha svanasana). The downward facing dog pose is part of any of the yoga sequences. What’s interesting is that the seemingly easy pose is not as easy to perfect and my realization only begins from my teacher training course. Have you ever wondered which part of your skeletal & muscular system are working in the pose? Continue reading to find out more.   


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Downward dog involves proper activation of specific sections of the body: the wrists, shoulders, spine, hamstrings, and calves. In this pose, our hips flex with the sits-bone pointing up to the ceiling like an inverted-letter-V. The palms are pressing into the mat with fingers spread out evenly. The shoulders are flexed and rotated externally. The ankles flex backward, the lumbar spine extends, and the cervical spine flexes. 


  • Rotator cuff muscles: subscapularis, infraspinatus, teres minor and supraspinatus
  • The external rotators are engaged in downward dog


  • Thoracic spine is isolated between the shoulder blades
  • The spine is lengthened to open up our outer back

Core muscles

  • Oblique muscles of the core and the intercostal muscles between the ribs are lengthened
  • Transverse abdominis is engaged

Hamstrings and calf

  • The following muscles are stretched: 
    • Latissimus dorsi
    • Teres major
    • Posterior deltoids
    • Gastrocnemius
    • Long toe flexor
    • Hamstrings
    • Gluteus maximus

To conclude, downward facing dog is a great shoulder and chest opener and it is important that we do not sag into anatomy. This is one of the foundational poses that seems relatively easy, but takes lots of practice to get into the correct alignment, and to get the maximum benefits from the stretch.

Good luck practicing!