How To Teach Downward Facing Dog: Includes Downloadable Yoga Class Handout With An Eye-Catching Infographic That Your Students Will Love


Here are the steps I took when teaching downward facing dog to one of my yoga classes.

Step 1
Free Yoga Class Handout

All students love yoga class handouts, so feel free to download and use the one below in your classes. This is 1 of 250+ yoga class handouts included in the Yoga Teacher Lesson Plan Kit.

Downward Facing Dog Infographic Handout | MS Word Version

Downward Facing Dog Infographic Handout | MAC Version

Downward Facing Dog Infographic Handout | ODT Version

Downward Facing Dog Infographic Handout | PDF Version

Step 2
Teach Sanskrit

Sanskrit: Adho Mukha Svanasana

Don’t be afraid to teach your students the Sanskrit, but make sure you make it fun to learn.

How is that possible you may ask?

Well, I do it by using the same memory tricks as the memory champions. All you need to do is associate the Sanskrit name with a bizarre story. The more bizarre you can make the story, the better it is for the memory.

Here’s how I ask my students to remember Adho Mukha Svanasana is the Sanskrit for Downward Facing Dog….

“Imagine you’re about to head off to work and you start singing “I ho, I ho it’s off to work we go” (triggers your mind to remember adho). Then someone throws muck (triggers your mind to remember  mukha) all over your car.  There’s so much muck that you can’t see out of your window screen and almost run over a beautiful white swan (triggers your mind to remember svan). You’re so stressed that you get out of the car in the middle of a busy road and perform Adho Mukha Svanasana. 

Step 3
Teach Symbolism

Here are some Downward Facing Dog symbolism you can bring up during the class:

  • Fetch (what games have you played recently?)
  • Friendship
  • Focus
  • Fun
  • Letting go of the past (e.g. a loud telling off)
  • Licking (or “kissing” for us humans)
  • Living in the moment
  • Loyalty
  • Play
  • Service

Step 4
Teach Philosophy

OK, now it’s time to immerse yourself in dog philosophy, which is nice to bring up while your students are practicing downward dog pose. It will make your class much more memorable and interesting!  Here are some examples I’ve used when teaching downward dog pose to my classes…

  • Call upon the dog when you need one pointed focus.”
  • “Dogs know how to have fun.  Do you?”
  • “Is there anything fun you’ve been meaning to do, but have been putting off?”
  • “From a spiritual stand-point, dogs are champions of service.  How can you best be of service to your friends, family and community?”
  • “If you know of a friend or family member in need, is it time to reach out and be of service to them?”
  • “If you’re taking life a wee bit too seriously, become a dog for a minute or two and do something that makes your tail wag.”
  • “Instead of finding the unknown journey ahead of you “daunting”, become a dog in your mind and enjoy the moment.”
  • “If you find yourself getting stressed, practice dog pose in your mind or on your mat and allow joy to enter your heart.”

Step 5
Teach Benefits

If you simply list out the benefits to your class, you’ll bore the socks off your students. That is of course, if they had any on. The way to spice up the benefits is to become a poet and use imagery words and phrases.  Here are some examples…

The Traditional Way
Downward Facing Dog is good for the spine.

The Imagery Way
Downward Facing Dog creates space within your spine for healing light to pour through.  

The Traditional Way
Downward Facing Dog stretches the hamstrings

The Imagery Way
Imagine a hook attached to your sacrum which is on a pulley attached to the ceiling.  

OK, now it’s your turn.  Add some imagery to the following ‘benefits’ (here are 101 yoga imagery phrases to help you)

  • Shoulder stretch
  • Calms nervous system
  • Stimulates abdominal organs & thyroid gland
  • Stretches shoulders
  • Helps relieve symptoms of menopause
  • Reduces stress & fatigue
  • Therapeutic for backache, headache, infertility, insomnia & sinusitis
  • Tones arms
  • Sculpts thighs
  • Shoulder opener
  • Entire backside of body is set free

Step 6
Teach Precautions

If you’ve given each of your students a Student Questionnaire (I’ve included two student questionnaires within Yoga Teacher Lesson Plan Kit) and have taken the time to become familiar with each of your student’s health issues, you can give them precautions and modifications as you walk around the class observing. Most new teachers stay rooted to their mats when they teach a class because it feels safe.   A rule of thumb is that you should be off your mat more than you’re on it.

Precautions:

  • High blood pressure
  • Pregnancy
  • Headache

Step 7
Teach Modifications

Bend knees
One of the great things about yoga is that modifications open the doors to yoga to students of all abilities. When you modify Downward Facing Dog, the physical focus is on lengthening the spine and opening up your upper back. That means you get the same benefits from bending your knees as you would with straight knees (the only difference is that you wouldn’t get such a deep stretch for the hamstrings. 

Bend knees & block
Bend knees and rest each hand on a a yoga block. 

Puppy Pose
Come onto knees into Extended Child Pose (a.k.a Puppy Pose) and finish in Child Pose.  

Use a chair
Your class will almost certainly have more than one student with a tight hamstrings.  Here’s a great modification to give them.   Ask students to practice Downward Facing Dog by putting their hands on a chair (instead of the mat).  The chair will allow the student to straighten their legs and get a good hamstring stretch in while keeping a long, straight spine.   However, make your students aware that they don’t limit themselves to only using chairs.   For example, they could also use a sofa, table,  bed, kitchen sink and wall. The higher the prop, the more your students will be able to straighten their legs (hamstring stretch) while still maintaining the long, straight spine that is the core of Downward Facing Dog.     

Use a wall
Your class will also have one or two students who have wrist or shoulder injuries.   Ask them to practice Downward Facing Dog using a wall as a prop.  

Step 8
Teach Asana

Here are some quick teaching tips for Downward Facing Dog Pose…

Tip #1 | Knees Bent

New students with stiff backs and legs don’t need to try and force their legs to be straight.   The huge effort it takes to straighten the legs pushes way too much weight forward onto their hands which has the knock on effect of dropping their hips too low.  So, when observing students who are struggling to straighten their legs, tell them it’s OK to BEND their legs.   This ‘bending’ will help the spine to extend down from the hips and place 80% of the weight on the feet instead of  the vulnerable hands…and now the classic Downward Facing Dog form will appear.

Tip #2 | Weight on Feet

Ask your students to be aware where most of their weight is being placed.  Most beginner students will pile 80% of their weight onto their hands. This is a big NO, NO.  The hands have wee little bones in them which means putting too much weight on them can cause injury.    Instead, 80% of the weight needs to be focused onto the feet.

Tip #3 | Use hands to push weight back onto feet

The name of the Downward Facing Dog game is to get as much weight off your hands as possible and as much weight into your feet as possible. That’s done by using your hands to push the weight onto the feet.

Tip #4 | Vary the stance

Ask your students to vary the width and length (more distance between hands and feet) of the stance.

Tip #5 | Puppy Pose

Ask your students to perform puppy pose (Downward Facing Dog on knees) and then Downward Facing Dog. Ask them to be aware of the stretch going on in their backs during both poses.  If the Puppy pose stretch feels similar to Downward Facing Dog, they are getting the benefits of the pose.

I hope you enjoyed this “Downward Facing Dog Teaching Script”.

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George Watts

BWY Yoga Teacher at George Watts Yoga
This post was lovingly morphed into reality by BWY yoga teacher, George Watts. If you're looking for a treasure trove of yoga lesson planning goodness, take a quick peek at Yoga Teacher Lesson Plan Kit.

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