The downward dog is the most basic and widely-known exercise in Pilates. Even if you’ve never attended a Pilates class, you most likely have heard of this one.

You would want to get the most out of your workout, so it is important to do it correctly.

How to do the downward dog

The pose resembles that of an upside down letter V. Look at your hands–they should be shoulders-width apart and your wrist line (joint) should be parallel to the front edge of your mat. There should be equal space between each of your fingers and in general, your middle finger will point straight ahead.

It is very important that you engage or “plug” your entire hand fully into the ground at all times to avoid excess strain on your wrist joint. Your feet are hips-width apart and they are to remain parallel to each other, meaning your heel is directly behind your second toe. You would create a perfect square if you were to draw an imaginary line from left middle toe down to left heel, across to right heel, up to right second toe, and over to left second toe.

From there you will look at your lower leg or shin area. The shin area from ankle to knee will create a perfect rectangle when in the proper position. Your lower leg should never resemble a potential triangle, with your knees knocking in towards each other–this would risk tension on the inside knee. You should be supported equally by your upper and lower body, and not rest heavily in the legs. You will always be pushing the floor away and engaging the shoulders and the upper body, elongating, not sinking your neck into the shoulders and upper back. From a side view you will see a nice V–no rounding or arching in the back. See photo for an example. Beginners and those with tight hamstrings will start with bent knees.

Benefits of Downward  Dog

The role of downward facing dog is vast. Done properly and consistently, the most noticeable benefits include:

  • Stronger hands, wrists, low-back, hamstrings, calves and Achilles tendon
  • Decrease in back pain by strengthening the entire back and shoulder girdle
  • Elongated shoulders and shoulder blade area
  • Decrease in tension and headaches by elongating the cervical spine and neck and relaxing the head
  • Deepened respiration
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Increased full-body circulation


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