Adho Mukha Svanasana or downward-facing dogpose, is a posture practiced in every Yoga class in most lineages of this ancient art. In Ashtanga Vinyasa it constitutes one of the major building blocks of the practice.

Function

Most emphasis is placed on AMS (Adho Mukha Svanasana) in the sun-salutations – surya namaskara – where it is held for five breaths in each salute. Here it serves as a point of stillness amidst the flowing movements in which we encounter strong postures like chaturanga dandasana – the plank or push up position – and urdhva mukha svanasana – upward-facing dog pose. In this instant, AMS allows us to rest for a moment, catch our breath, and focus our eyes on the navel. This gazing point or ‘drsti’ is called ‘nabichakra’.

The use of the navel as the ‘dristi’ makes apparent the important second function this posture continuously has throughout the series. Bending the neck slightly to be able to see the navel creates a slight flexion – forward bend – or rounding of our back. This serves as a counter to the previous posture, upward-facing dog, which is a backbend.

Later, when jumping back and forward in between postures during the floor sequence in the so-called ‘half-vinyasas’, we can stretch out some major body parts to neutralize our spine and bring about harmony and equilibrium in the body before embarking on the next asana.

Benefits

This brings us to the many wonderful benefits this frequently practiced posture gifts us with. Begin with the hands at the front: it strengthens our hands and wrists, and when practiced in a particular way stretches our arms beautifully. We learn to become in tune with and knowledgeable about our joints, here majorly the wrists, elbows, neck & shoulders.

The shoulders become strong as well as flexible. As gravity works on our trunk, allowing it to ‘sink’ towards the floor, the shoulders stretch out even more and the chest experiences an openness and ‘freedom of breath’ you otherwise might find difficult to achieve.

With parts of our weight carried by our arms, the then-suspended spine can lengthen. You can feel a relieving spaciousness in between the vertebrae.

Your sacrum becomes ‘stretched’ and broadened. Especially when receiving an ‘adjustment’ by your teacher. Applying weight through their hands onto the sacrum; you will feel the stretch down into the legs, and into the heels, then your sacro-iliac joints come back to a neutral place with a sense of spaciousness. This ‘adjustment’ widely practiced in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, stretches the back and the hamstrings, which many of you have felt in class more or less acutely :)

The stretch continues into the calves and ankles/archilles.

The benefits continue internally. As you are in a partly ‘inverted’ posture – upside down – all your inner organs are relieved of the continuous strain of the downward pull of gravity. The posture refreshes and revitalizes them, and allows them to function more efficiently for you.

The same applies to your head, where a lot of prana – vital energy – flushes your brain, and helps you to think with clarity.

AMS is meant to assist in opening the chest, and better breathing. It helps relieve stress and mild depression; it helps relieve the symptoms of menopause; it helps prevent osteoporosis; it improves digestion, and brings about calm and relaxation; it relieves headaches, insomnia, back pain, and fatigue; and it is therapeutic for high blood pressure, asthma, flat feet, sciatica, and sinusitis.

On a merely physical level, the strengthening of the shoulders and arms is a beautiful gift, as well as the toning of your abdominal muscles.

Alignment/Correct Technique

How to enter the posture

Start with your shoulders above the wrists and your body straight in the straight-arm plank, and then push down into chaturanga dandasana, the push up position. ‘Roll over’ your toes to move into upward-facing dogpose on an inhalation, followed by an outbreath leading you into AMS, again ‘rolling over’ your toes. Like this you will end up in AMS with just the right distance between your hands and feet. The posture describes a ‘v-shape’ with your hips reaching up high.

Detailed Alignment

Place your hands shoulder-width apart with the fingers spread wide. Apply a bit more pressure through the triangle described between the base of your thumb, the base of your index finger, and the inside of your wrist. Grounding through this portion of your hand allows you to stretch your arms ‘away’ from this triangle by rotating your shoulders outward (as if away from the thumbs). You will end up with beautifully broad shoulders, and a stable foundation for your downdog. Push away from the floor giving your spine more length. Stretch your hips up high. This and the gaze directed at the navel allows your lower back to create more space in between all of the joints.

The feet are hip-width apart, with the toes pointing slightly inward. Some prefer the feet pointing straight ahead, or turned outward. This might feel more natural for some. It tightens the lower back a little in comparison to when the toes point inward, but has a good effect on the hips in return. The legs are straight with the kneecaps lifted. We aim to lower the heels fully to the floor, grounding through the four corners of the feet, and lifting the arches of the feet. It will feel as if you are rotating the thighs slightly inward and at the same time aim at grounding through the outer foot.

Bandhas

In this beautiful posture uddiyana bandha is easily accessible and clearly visible. As you look towards your navel ensure that the lower portion of your belly – below the navel – is gently, but consistently hollowed if possible. This will draw the breath into your ribcage, giving you all the amazing benefits chest breathing provides over abdominal breathing. Together with the use of muladhara bandha it stabilizes your back, and will amplify the energizing effects of this posture.

So next time you get onto the mat, which most certainly will be either today or tomorrow :) spend a moment longer in this posture, indulging in all the intricacies this classic has to offer.

OM Shanti, Angelika