The Anatomy of Adho Mukha Svanasana

When I first started yoga, Adho Mukha Swanasana – the downward facing dog was always challenging. It is the pose that we do in almost all yoga classes, and yet I feel the tightness in all parts of my body, in all the classes! Gradually, I realised that it is one pose that without noticing it, I have gotten better at it, going deeper, heels touching the ground, knees straighten, back lengthen. It has actually become a resting pose for me! It is a pose that I used to determine changes in my body. Am I getting stronger or weaker, flexible or tighter? It helps me to find the balance between the strength I have, and the flexibility I am building.


Adho Mukha Swananasa is an inversion and an arm strengthening pose. It fully stretches the full length of the back of our legs, especially the tight hamstrings and calf muscles, feeling the awakening along our spine and strengthening our shoulders. As we flex our hips and over time with flexibility, straighten the knees which help with the stretch on the hamstrings.


Our soleus, the muscles crossing our ankles, and gastrocnemius, the muscles crossing the back of our knees, are stretched when we dorsiflex our feet. When we straighten our arms, grounding them firmly onto the mat, we push ourselves away from the ground, bringing our body back towards the legs, our hip higher up into the air, we then go into a deeper stretch.


With palm grounded, fingers evenly spread onto the mat, shoulders rotated externally and flexed, ankles dorsiflexed, our lumbar spine extends and cervical spine flexes. Our wrists play a part here as well. The wrists are widely involved in yoga poses. In downward dog pose, we should align our wrists such that the middle fingers are pointing forward.


With all the different adjustments and alignments, are we then correctly distributing the entire body weight, placing most of our weight towards our legs? I determine that by checking in with the feeling I have in my wrists. If I am feeling uncomfortable or hurting around my wrists, it is a telltale sign that I am not doing the pose correctly.


I’d like to imagine myself as a mountain, an inverted “V”, in the downward facing dog pose. With the fingers spread out evenly, shoulder strong and secured, my ankles and palms form the base of a firmly grounded mountain. No rain or shine can disrupt the peace surrounding it. Which is my take on this pose, my resting pose in my practice, my warm-up, my cool down, a pose I do in between sequence, my go-to. It is a pose that I can power with a continuous flow of deep breaths, strong and steady.


Its been a few years since I first started yoga. Even though there were quite a few periods that I stopped yoga completely, I’ll come back to it and the downward facing dog pose will always feel foreign when I was starting my practice again. After regular practice, I feel myself improve and almost at my “best” and I attend a class and can even be corrected and pushed deeper into the stretch!


What I learn from this pose is that, firstly, there will always be room for improvement. Secondly, it is the foundation and when the foundation is strong and secure, things flow. Lastly, it can actually be my resting pose, and now my favourite pose!