How to Stay Safe in Three-Legged Dog

Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana (One-legged downward facing dog—a.k.a. Three-Legged Downward-Facing Dog (Tri Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana)

Whether in a class, a video flow on IG, or integrated into Surya Namaskar, this pose makes its way to almost every sequence. I use it quite a bit because I feel like it’s a great opening pose to create length before transitioning to poses like any of the Virabhadrasana (Warrior) poses.

But here’s the thing: SO many people aren’t doing it correctly and are at risk of injuring themselves (especially the lumbar spine or shoulders). Most don’t even realize it and in my classes, I know I sound like a broken record when I continually say the same cues but I feel it’s that important.

In yoga, we’re not looking for “perfect” alignment.

But there has to be an awareness on correct alignment, otherwise, we’re not reaping the benefits of the pose. Keep in mind, every body is different, so each pose may look a little different in each body! But…there are always certain postural alignments that we should strive for regardless of our body type. These are for safety and opening the channel to access Prana within the pose. Now, let’s take a look at some Do’s and Don’ts of One-legged Downward Facing Dog. Then as always, we’ll discuss the physical benefits as well as the energetic benefits. Let’s go!

What not to do:

  • Dump weight in your shoulders
  • Tuck your pelvis (rounding lumbar region)
  • Round the spine (particularly in the thoracic region)
  • Don’t over activate glute on lifted leg (this creates an external rotation of the hip)
  • Open or stack the hips
  • Bend knee of lifted leg
  • Allow palms to cup (palms should be actively pressing into earth)

Say yes to these cues!

  • Push the earth away through your palms engaging muscles in the shoulder and trapezius
  • Allow knee on standing leg to bend slightly
  • Here’s a big one…both hips bones should be facing the earth so your hips are squared
  • Lift through your heel (imagine an energetic force lifting your heel up toward the sky)
  • Toes are pointed and facing the earth
  • Lift leg through the engagement of your glute and hamstring (this ensures correct alignment of pelvis and protects the sacrum and lumbar spine)
  • Side-waist lengthens
  • Engage abdominals by drawing belly in toward spine
  • Create length in your spine with each breath

Remember, in this asana, we want to keep our hips squared, toes facing the earth, and our spine to feel as it does in Adho Mukha Svānāsana. It’s not important if your heels reach the earth. It’s more important to create length and space in the spine, side body, and feel as long as you can from your fingertips through the toes on the lifted leg (lifting your tailbone toward the sky).

Here’s why your body loves this pose:

  • Cultivates balance in both hemispheres of the brain and in the body
  • Lengthens/releases the hip flexors and hamstrings
  • Strengthens the upper body
  • Reboots the nervous system
  • Relaxes the mind
  • Eases back pain and fatigue
  • May relieve headache

And here’s what it does for your energy:

  • Cultivates a calming effect
  • Brings awareness within
  • Opens Muladhara and Svadhisthana

This pose, as with most, has its variations but when done in its original form is extremely powerful. You cultivate strength, balance, and lengthening simultaneously. This is truly one of my favorites. Just be mindful and take your time when moving into this asana. If this pose feels a little too difficult for you right now but you want to reap some of the benefits, you can create the same effects from Table Top (see image below)! Follow the same do’s and don’ts for lifting the leg, drawing belly in, pressing through the palms, etc. And when you feel ready, try it from Adho Mukha. There’s no right or wrong. This is your yoga!

From Table Top

Do you like three-legged downward facing dog? Do you struggle with it? What’s your favorite aspect of this pose? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

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