6 Alternatives to Downward-Facing Dog

Posted by on Jun 19, 2015 in Yoga | One Comment
6 Alternatives to Downward-Facing Dog

Downward-facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) is one of those yoga poses that you either love or hate. But it’s also hard to avoid this pose, especially if you are in a group yoga class.

But just because you struggle with downward-facing dog or find it hard on your back, shoulders, hands, or wrists, it doesn’t mean you still can’t reap the benefits of this pose. This is true even for beginners. And for people who are overweight, have tight hamstrings, or wrist problems.

To help you add a little “dog flavor” to your yoga practice, here are 6 alternatives to downward-facing dog.

It’s always easier to modify poses when you have your own personal yoga practice. Some of the downward dog alternatives below may work best if you are practicing on your own, or if you are holding them for a few breaths during class. But others can be included during Sun Salutations and other flows.

I have even included a seated version of downward-facing dog. This is one that I use when I teach people with Multiple Sclerosis, but it works for anyone who is more comfortable doing chair yoga.

Getting Started With Downward-Facing Dog Alternatives

Even though these yoga poses are great alternatives to downward-facing dog, you should still pay attention for these warning signs:

  • shoulder pain, especially if you have a rotator cuff injury or a history of shoulder dislocation
  • upper or lower back pain
  • any other pain or discomfort
  • inability to breathe slowly and deeply

If you experience any of these, come out of the pose. Take a break before trying it again or moving on to the next pose.

Yoga offers many benefits, but if done incorrectly it can cause more harm than good. If you are new to yoga, find a qualified yoga teacher to work with, either one-on-one or in a group yoga class.

Downward-Facing Dog with Blocks

Good for: if you have hand or wrist problems; while holding the pose

Try placing each of your hands on a yoga block. I like to rest the heel of my hand at the edge of the block to avoid sliding forward. This extra elevation shifts your center of gravity back toward your feet. This means you may feel more lightness in your hands. As with regular downward-facing dog, bend your knees enough to allow you to focus on extending your spine from your hips toward your wrists.

Downward-Facing Dog with a Chair

Good for: if you have hand or wrist problems; while holding the pose

Instead of placing your hands on the floor, rest your palms on the seat of a chair, coffee table, sofa, or stairs. The lower your hands are to the floor, the closer you are to the full downward-facing dog pose. Also, the higher up you place your hands, the more you can straighten your legs. Play with different heights to find a position where you can lengthen your spine and feel the stretch on the back of your shoulders.

Downward-Facing Dog with the Wall

Good for: if you have hand or wrist problems; for people with mobility issues; while holding the pose; pregnant women; people who cannot do inverted poses

Doing downward-facing dog against the wall while seated allows you to focus on stretching the back of your shoulders, without putting too much weight on your hands or being inverted.

  • Sit in a chair facing the wall, with your knees a few inches from the wall and your feet slightly behind the knees.
  • Inhale your arms wide and up overhead.
  • Place your palms as high up on the wall as you can reach. Keep your ears in line with your biceps.
  • Extend your spine from your hips toward your fingertips.
  • Press your chest gently forward to feel a stretch across the back of your shoulders. Stay here and breathe.
  • To come out of the pose, exhale your arms to the side (shoulder height) and turn your palms up. Then lower your arms.

Extended Puppy Pose

Extended puppy yoga pose (Flickr by Sarah Siblik)Good for: if you have hand or wrist problems; while holding the pose; during Sun Salutations; as preparation for downward-facing dog

Extended puppy pose (Anahatasana) is basically a kneeling version of downward-facing dog. In this pose, you can work on extending your spine from your hips down toward your hands. You can also stretch the back of your shoulders in a more controlled fashion. If your knees bother you in this pose, place a folded blanket under them. During Sun Salutations, you can come into extended puppy pose from upward-facing dog or cobra, although you may have to slide your hands forward more to find the downward-dog feeling in your spine and shoulders.

Child’s Pose

Child's yoga pose (Flickr by Anne Wu)Good for: if you have hand or wrist problems; while holding the pose; during Sun Salutations

Many people are familiar with child’s pose (Balasana) as an alternative to downward-facing dog. If you keep your arms extended forward during this pose, you will feel the stretch across the back of your shoulders. This is also a useful pose to come into when you are feeling overheated, which sometimes happens during very active flow yoga classes. If this happens to you, stay in the pose until your breath is smooth and steady.

Dolphin Pose

Yoga pose: forearm dolphin pose (Pixabay)Good for: if you have hand or wrist problems; while holding the pose

Dolphin pose takes the weight out of your hands and wrists and allows you to focus on extending your spine from your hips toward your shoulders. You also get more of the inverted V-shape of downward-facing dog than with some of the other alternatives. But don’t be fooled. This pose requires quite a bit of strength in the shoulders, upper back, and core. If you have shoulder or neck injuries, you might be better off with one of the other downward-facing dog alternatives.

Other Resources



1 Comment

  1. Kelly LoGiudice
    May 7, 2017

    Thank you so much for this article. These ideas helped so much for an activity we were doing in my women’s group. Elderly women and a woman with leg prosthetics were able to use the modification against the wall. Deep gratitude


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