Downward Dog Variations for Every Need and Goal

Whether you have a large chest, are dealing with wrist pain, or want to build upper-body strength, these variations will help you get the most out of the classic downward dog posture.

Whether you're a seasoned yogi or someone just getting started with online yoga classes, you will definitely encounter one key pose: the downward-facing dog. As noted by New York-based yoga teacher and lululemon ambassador, Valerie Verdier, the downward dog is a common pose you'll find in every routine. “Not only is it a fundamental posture, but it also serves as a transition. With each pose in your yoga session, you can start and finish with a downward dog, and mastering this pose can enhance your overall practice.” In addition, it provides an invigorating stretch across the backside of your body, from your calves to lats, while simultaneously enhancing stability and strength in your shoulders, wrists, and core, according to Verdier. Essentially, the downward dog offers a comprehensive workout. What's even better is that this traditional yoga posture can be modified to suit your individual body type, experience level, and objectives. For instance, beginners, those with tight hamstrings or people with a fuller chest can modify the pose to reap the same benefits without any strain or discomfort. If you have tight hips, there's a variation of the downward dog aimed at alleviating that tension. Those who want to step up their practice and intensify their lower body and shoulder strength can choose a version of the downward dog that challenges these muscle groups. The key is to customize the pose so it feels most comfortable for you.If you're eager to try this foundational pose, we've got a basic downward dog guide below. Then, watch as Verdier shows you how to adjust the position with eight diverse downward dog variations and alternatives suited for all fitness levels and goals.

How to Do a Downward Dog

<p>Initiate the position on all fours, aligning your wrists right under your shoulders and knees beneath your hips. Make sure your fingers are spread out wide while your core is engaged, and tuck in your toes.</p> <p>Next, push into your hands, lift your knees off the ground, and gently elevate your hips towards the ceiling, culminating in an upside-down "V" shape. Shift the weight into your feet and lower your heels to as close to the floor as they can get. Keep your feet separated at hip-width, with your arms and legs elongated, and ensure your biceps align with your ears.</p> <p>Remain in this stance, making certain your shoulders are pulled away from your ears and your back remains straight.</p>

8 Downward Dog Variations

While the downward dog pose may seem straightforward, it can be quite testing for the whole body. However, numerous variations of the downward dog are available to ensure everyone reaps its benefits, irrespective of their level or physical condition during practice. In this guide, we present different modifications of the downward dog. These include those that alleviate tension in the hip region, provide relief from wrist discomfort, and cater to those with larger upper bodies. Additional variations aimed at bolstering shoulder strength and challenging the lower body are also featured, as demonstrated by Verdier. As you assume these poses, it's crucial to continually assess your physical state, and feel free to switch to another modification if one doesn't suit you. Whichever variation you opt for, Verdier advises maintaining a majority of your weight on your legs to avoid wrist strain, and refrain from over-arching the spine or overly extending the shoulders.

Downward Dog Variation to Scale Down: Downward Dog with Bent Knees

Begin your yoga routine in a tabletop pose, ensuring your wrists align directly under your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips. Spread your fingers wide and activate your core muscles as you prepare for the downward dog pose with bent knees variation, says Verdier. The key benefit of this modification is to contract the hamstrings instead of merely stretching them, offering them the opportunity to join the supporting muscles. This posture is particularly beneficial for those with tight calves or hamstrings, or those who require additional support.

Start by pressing your palms into the floor, gently lift your knees, and slowly elevate your hips towards the ceiling. Your body should form an upside-down "V" shape. Distribute your weight evenly onto your feet and lower your heels towards the floor as much as possible - it's okay if they don't touch. Remember to keep your knees slightly bent for this variation. Your feet should be spaced hip-width apart, with your arms fully extended, and your biceps should align with your ears.

To maintain the correct pose, ensure your shoulders are pulled away from your ears and your back remains flat. Hold this position. Practicing this modified downward dog pose can provide several benefits to both beginner and seasoned yogis.

Downward Dog Variation to Level Up: Three-Legged Dog

A. Kickstart the exercise in a table-top stance on the ground, with your wrists aligned under your shoulders and knees beneath the hips. Make sure your fingers are wide apart, core engaged, and toes curled under.B. Apply pressure into your hands, elevate your knees off the ground, and gradually lift your hips towards the ceiling. This will form an inverted "V" shape with your body. Shift the weight onto your feet and try to lower your heels as close to the floor as you can manage. Keep your feet distanced hip-width apart, arms and legs elongated, and biceps parallel with your ears.C. Transfer your weight into your right leg and then elevate your left leg towards the ceiling. Your body should be forming a straight line from your head to your left heel. Ensure your pelvis is square with the ground and your right leg is slightly bent.D. Maintain this posture, ensuring your shoulders are relaxed away from your ears and your back is kept flat.

Downward Dog Variation for Tight Hips: Three-Legged Dog with Hip Opener

Start on all fours on the ground, aligning your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Spread your fingers wide and tuck your toes under as you engage your core muscles.A. Push through your hands, raise your knees from the ground, and gently push your hips upwards to form an inverted 'V' with your body. Transfer your weight to your feet and aim to lower your heels as far down as they'll go. Keep your feet at hip-distance, your arms and legs straight, and your upper arms in line with your ears.C. Move your weight onto your right leg and elevate your left leg towards the sky, creating a straight alignment from your head to your left foot. Maintain your pelvis parallel with the floor and keep a slight bend in your right leg.D. Flex your left knee to create a 90-degree angle and enable your hips to shift to the left, with your left foot turning towards the right-hand side.E. Hold this position, ensuring your shoulders are well separated from your ears and your back is kept straight.

Downward Dog Variation for Target Upper Body: Puppy Pose

The Puppy Pose, an alternative to the Downward Dog, maintains your knees on the floor which in turn provides all the advantages for your upper body similar to the traditional Downward Dog, but with less leg tension, according to Verdier. "This pose helps open up the shoulders and arms, and it can assist in fortifying your spine", she adds.

Start off in a tabletop posture on the ground with your wrists aligned under your shoulders and knees positioned under your hips. Your toes should be curled under. Move your left hand forward on the ground, followed by your right hand, so that both of your arms are fully stretched out in front of you. Make sure your fingers are spread wide apart and your core is engaged.

Shift your weight into your hips and lower your chest down to the ground, ensuring you avoid curving your back. Your knees should be bent at 90-degree angles, arms straight, and your biceps should align with your ears. Hold this position, ensuring your shoulders remain away from your ears and your back remains flat.

Downward Dog Variation for Sensitive Wrists: Dolphin Pose

If you're dealing with wrist discomfort or a wrist injury, the Dolphin Pose – an alternative to the Downward Dog – will prove extremely beneficial. This posture is executed on the forearms, which means your wrists won't experience any stress.

Commence in a table-top stance on the floor, ensuring that your wrists are positioned directly beneath your shoulders and your knees are placed under your hips. Then, drop your right forearm to the ground, followed by your left forearm so that your elbows align under your shoulders. Fan out your fingers widely, activate your core and tuck your toes under.

Apply pressure into your palms and forearms, lift your knees off the ground, and gently elevate your hips towards the ceiling, sculpting your body into an inverted "V" shape. Shift your weight onto your feet and lower your heels as close to the ground as you can achieve. Keep your feet hip-width apart, your legs straight, and your biceps aligned with your ears.

Maintain this pose, ensuring your shoulders are pulled away from your ears and your back remains flat.

Downward Dog Variation for Shoulder Strength: One-Armed Revolved Downward Dog

Initiate the one-armed revolved downward dog, a shoulder-strengthening yoga posture, by positioning yourself into a table-top stance. Ensure your wrists align with your shoulders, and knees are right beneath your hips. Broaden your fingers for better support and engage your abdominal muscles. Now, push your hands against the floor while lifting your knees and gradually propelling your hips towards the ceiling, forming an upside-down 'V'. Gradually shift your body weight onto your feet and strive to get your heels as close to the ground as possible. Keep your feet apart, equivalent to your hip-width, arm, and legs straight, and ensure your biceps align with your ears.

To intensify this posture, transfer your body weight into your left hand and gently raise your right hand off the floor. Extend your right hand underneath your body to clutch the outside of your left ankle, causing a slight twist in your spine. However, remember to keep your pelvis parallel to the floor. Maintain this pose ensuring your shoulders are relaxed and away from your ears and your back is flat. This exercise not only enhances shoulder strength but also promotes overall muscle balance.

Downward Dog Variation for Large Chests: Downward Dog with Wide Hands

A broadened stance in the Downward Dog pose not only provides additional room for a large chest but also eases the pose if you have stiff shoulders, according to Verdier. She elaborates that this position creates more space to open up your collarbone and enables your upper traps to relax.

Step 1: Initiate by getting into a tabletop position on the ground, with your knees positioned under your hips and your hands spread wider than your shoulders on the floor. Ensure your fingers are spread out wide, engage your core, and then tuck your toes in.

Step 2: Apply pressure into your hands, lift your knees off the ground, and elevate your hips slowly towards the ceiling, forming an inverted "V" shape with your body. Shift your weight towards your feet and lower your heels as much as possible towards the ground. Keep your feet hip-width apart, your arms and legs straight, and align your biceps with your ears.

Step 3: Maintain this position, ensuring your shoulders are kept away from your ears and your back is kept flat.

Downward Dog Variation to Target Lower Body: Downward Dog with Hands On Blocks

Wishing to amplify your lower-body workout intensity? Verdier suggests transitioning into a downward dog with hands on yoga blocks. This approach not only allocates more weight to the legs but also alleviates the stress off your wrists. If you're someone who struggles with wrist discomfort, this method can be particularly advantageous.

Step 1: Initiate by positioning yourself in a table-top stance on the mat. Each hand should rest on a yoga block (the larger surface making contact with the mat), ensuring that your wrists align directly below your shoulders while your knees are right beneath your hips. Fan out your fingers widely and activate your core before tucking your toes under.

Step 2: Apply pressure into your hands, lift your knees off the mat, and gradually elevate your hips towards the ceiling to form an inverted 'V'. As you do so, redistribute your weight onto your feet and sink your heels as close to the mat as they can get. Maintain your feet at hip-width apart, your arms and legs extended, and your biceps aligned with your ears.

Step 3: Sustain this pose, ensuring your shoulders are kept away from your ears and your back remains flat.

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