Yoga 2.0 Variations of Downward Facing Dog

Align Your Body's Inner Wisdom

how to practice downward facing dog pose if you are a beginner

Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana) is often taught as a “beginner” yoga pose, but it’s actually quite a challenging posture to practice. It’s a ubiquitous pose that shows up in just about every style and practice of yoga, but it requires quite a lot of different joints and body parts to come together to create the whole shape.

Downward Facing Dog Pose not only uses a lot of shoulder and arm strength but also requires shoulder mobility, core strength, and hip and hamstring mobility. But most new practitioners don’t have that kind of strength or mobility when they first begin their yoga practice, so this posture really challenges beginners.

Thankfully, there are a number of different variations and modifications of Downward Facing Dog Pose that you can practice to make the pose more accessible and also help to build strength, create mobility, and find anatomical alignment.

How to Make Your Downward Facing Dog Pose More Accessible with These 2 Variations

For these different variations, you will need a chair and two blocks.

How to Practice Downward Facing Dog Pose Over a Chair

beginner yoga tips for downward facing dog pose

  1. Set your mat up against a wall with the short edge of your mat touching the wall.
  2. Place your chair at the top of your mat with the back of the chair touching the wall for support so that your chair will not slide when you press on it.
  3. Kneel about halfway down your mat facing toward your chair.
  4. Place the heels of your hands roughly shoulder-width apart into the seat of the chair and actively press them forward toward the wall in front of you to immediately create some action in your arms. 
  5. Tuck your toes and lift your knees off the floor.
  6. Keep your knees bent and stretch your sit bones toward the sky to create the shape of an inverted V.
  7. Lengthen your spine by stretching the crown of your head and your sit bones in opposite directions.
  8. Ever so slightly, melt your chest toward your thighs and focus on creating length from the heels of your hands up to your hips.
  9. Knit your front ribs together so that they move back toward your spine to avoid backbending and to integrate your core to stabilize your lower back.
  10. If it feels appropriate, you can slowly start to work your legs toward straight and release your heels toward the floor. If you do this, don’t sacrifice the length in your spine to create length in your hamstrings. If your low back begins to round when you lower your heels, lift them back up.
  11. Hold for a few deep breaths, and when you’re ready, walk your feet toward the wall and rise up to stand. 

How to Practice Downward Facing Dog Pose Over Blocks

beginner modification of downward facing dog pose (in sanskrit: adho mukha svanasana)

  1. Set your mat up against a wall with the short edge of your mat touching the wall.
  2. Place your two blocks on their lowest height setting at the top of your mat roughly shoulder-width apart with the blocks touching the wall for support so that they won’t slide out from underneath you. Align the long edge of your blocks parallel to the long edge of your mat.
  3. Place the heels of your hands into the top corners of the blocks and come onto all fours facing the wall.
  4. Tuck your toes under and lift your knees off the floor.
  5. Press forward into the blocks and reach your hips up and back toward the sky. Stretch your sit bones high toward the ceiling.
  6. Keep your knees bent and elongate your whole back body. Find length from the heels of your hands up through to your shoulders, and all the way back to your hips.
  7. If your hamstrings allow, you can work your legs towards straight and stretch your heels toward the floor without losing the length in your back. If your low back rounds as you lower your heels, lift the heels back up.
  8. Hold for a few deep breaths, and when you’re ready, tap your knees to the floor and rise up to a seated position.

Align With Your Body’s Inner Wisdom in Downward Facing Dog Pose

While it may be tempting to copy the Downward Facing Dog Pose of the person on the mat next to you, it’s much wiser to tune in to your inner experience in the pose. Although your yoga teacher is there to help you in your practice, you are really your own guru.

So play with variations. Find a shape that works for your unique body. Connect with the sensations that you feel in the pose. Find your own edge. Experiment with your unique bone structure, muscular length, and muscular strength.

Explore different options, modifications, variations, and versions of Adho Mukha Svanasana and play with props to spice up your practice, make shapes more accessible, and offer varying loads to your tissues. You just might find that Downward Facing Dog Pose becomes your new favorite pose!

Leah Sugerman, E-RYT 500, YACEP, yoga writer

Leah Sugerman is a yoga teacher, writer, and passionate world traveler. An eternally grateful student, she has trained in countless schools and traditions of the practice. She teaches a fusion of the styles she has studied with a strong emphasis on breath, alignment, and anatomical integrity. Leah teaches workshops, retreats, and trainings, both internationally and online. For more information, visit www.leahsugerman.com.

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