The Real Reason Downward-Facing Dog Is So Good for You.

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Downward-facing dog is the most ubiquitous pose in yoga. Acupuncture explains why.

This popular yoga pose is the one we see in advertisements and movies, on yoga DVDs, and the covers of health and fitness magazines. Downward-facing dog is taught in beginner yoga classes and returned to again and again by the most advanced yoga practitioners.

Almost everyone who has tried yoga, no matter their skill level, is familiar with downward-facing dog. Even people who have never set foot on a yoga mat can visualize the pose, known in Sanskrit as adho mukha svanasana.

So why is downward-facing dog the media darling of yoga poses? What keeps people coming back to this pose? Why does downward-facing dog make us feel so good? And what the heck does this have to do with acupuncture?

Downward-Facing Dog Has Your Back

From an acupuncture perspective, downward-facing dog has gained its rightful place at the top of the yoga-pose heap because it activates the bladder channel.

The bladder channel, sometimes referred to as tai yang, is the longest channel in the body. It has 67 acupuncture points that run from the inner eye, up and over the head, down the entire spine and posterior leg, along the side of the foot and ending at the pinkie toe.

The location of the bladder channel is significant because the back in acupuncture is considered the most yang––the most external, superficial––part of the body. It is our initial connection with the outside world.

The bladder channel, since it takes up such significant territory on the back, is our first line of defense against invaders from the external environment––cold, wind, germs, pollen, etc. For this reason, points along the bladder channel are frequently selected to get rid of cold and flu symptoms, and to boost immunity.

Downward-facing dog elongates the entire Bladder channel, enabling flow and strengthening the body’s primary defense mechanism.

The Secret to Understanding Downward-Facing Dog’s Many Benefits

The large surface area covered by the bladder channel means that its applications extend beyond immunity. The bladder channel is used to treat a very wide range of conditions, including pain in any part of the body that’s located along its route––headaches; neck pain; upper, mid and low back pain; pulled hamstrings; calf strains; and foot pain.

But even more than size or location, the reason the bladder channel is so important to overall health––and the reason downward-facing dog is such a gem of a yoga pose––is because it contains what are known in acupuncture as the Back Shu Points.

Each of the body’s organs has its own Back Shu Point and they are all located along the bladder channel. Shu in Chinese means “to transport,” as in transport qi (or blood, or fluids, or whatever’s needed) to the organ associated with that point.

Back Shu Points are used diagnostically and as treatment points.

Acupuncturists often palpate these points to gather information about which organ system is involved in a person’s symptoms. If a certain point is tender, or noticeably raised or depressed, it may indicate that something’s going on with that point’s corresponding organ. Once a diagnosis has been determined, Back Shu Points may be needled directly.

The Back Shu Points are traditionally associated with treating chronic diseases, so pretty much anything you can think of that’s not related to an acute injury––anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, menstrual irregularities, asthma, incontinence, migraines, insomnia, etc. Many acupuncturists think of Back Shu Points as going to the source, the most direct way of affecting a particular organ.

The Back Shu Points also are used to treat problems with sense organs, since each organ system has an associated sense organ. The eyes, for example, are associated with liver, and would be treated with the liver Back Shu point. The mouth is the sense organ of spleen, so the spleen Back Shu Point would be chosen for any mouth-related issues. And so on.

The bottom line is this: The bladder channel covers a lot of ground, both in terms of size and function. Smooth flow throughout the channel is critical to achieving optimal health and at the same time challenging to maintain since there’s a lot that can go wrong.

Downward-facing dog is unique in its ability to engage, in one fell swoop, acupuncture’s largest and most all-encompassing channel. For the remaining few who haven’t already, it’s time to strike this pose.

Editor: Lindsay Friedman 


Sara Calabro is an acupuncturist and the founding editor of AcuTake, an online publication dedicated to improving acupuncture education and access. She is also a blogger for The Huffington Post, a contributing writer for Acupuncture Today and the author of Acupuncture Matters: The Definitive Guide to Understanding the True Power of Acupuncture.




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anonymous Aug 9, 2015 7:26am

There are so many reasons real Yoga is good for you, the real reasons don't have to relate to anything that is not Yoga…

anonymous Sep 8, 2014 7:34am

Three years and endless adjustments in, and the dreaded DFD still troubles my shoulders, wrists, forearms, and hamstrings. They keep telling me that his is a resting pose and that I should enjoy it. I live in hope and carry on.

    anonymous Jan 3, 2015 6:13am

    I teach wrist exercises to all my students to strengthen them, and encourage students to bend the knees if the hamstrings are tight to maintain the integrity of the pose from hands to sitbones (preparation for inversions). There are may ways to modify this pose, including doing it on a yoga belt attached to a door/door handle with belt around hip crease, so that you can enjoy the shape while in traction/release.

      anonymous May 8, 2015 3:23pm

      Two excellent comments. I'd believe you would be a great at communicating and sharing your knowledge during your instruction judging from your comments.

anonymous Aug 14, 2014 1:37pm

Downward Dog Has Your Back 🙂 There is something very amazing about that V. We are morphing into other human beings. Bringing the vibration of the planet up. So let's all do our dogs.

anonymous Jul 30, 2014 11:54am

I love sharing the benefits of various aspects of yoga with my students. I remember that it took me quite a while, years ago to be able to stay in DD.

Also Legs up the Wall (Viparita karani) before bed is superb for a better night's sleep. It has numerous physiological aspects.

anonymous Jun 21, 2014 10:09am

This could then be said of any deep forward bend (e.g., the forward bends of the Astanga Primary series are said to remove illness.)
Meanwhile, Down Dog includes half an inversion, with all the benefits that that entails (lowering blood pressure over time, slowing heart rate etc..), connects the arms to the spine (could say it works with the heart meridian), and possibly stimulates the thyroid depending on hand position, placement against a wall/support or not, allows abdominal contents to fall into diaphragm, releasing and massaging tissues, and so on. The vayus or flowing energies of the yogic tradition would need to be addressed as well, to the degree that they may be known.

    anonymous May 8, 2015 3:19pm

    Thanks, that was a nice little touch, a good addition to the article. I could feel and visualize all the body you described, very engrossing writing.

anonymous Feb 16, 2014 2:46pm

Does your site have a contact page? I’m having problems locating it but, I’d like to shoot
you an e-mail. I’ve got some creative ideas for your blog you
might be interested in hearing. Either way, great website
and I look forward to seeing it expand over time.

anonymous Aug 24, 2013 12:00pm

Excellent article! I've only been practicing yoga for about a year & a half So I'm still learning about its health benefits! I'm amazed at how great yoga can make the body, mind and spirit feel! Thanks for sharing this info! Awesome!!!

anonymous Nov 28, 2012 6:11pm

[…] for The Huntington Post and Acupuncture Today. She writes for some health websites GreenMedInfo, Elephant Journal and All Things Healing. She also has her own practice here in NW […]

anonymous Sep 18, 2012 8:50am

[…] the event, and finding time to actually practice my yoga. The four days were a whirlwind of downward dogs, provocative talks, yoga pants, and solid music acts, including Thievery Corporation and Michael […]

anonymous Jul 12, 2012 3:15pm

[…] […]

anonymous Jun 11, 2012 2:45pm

[…] AcuTake content now running on The Huffington Post, GreenMedInfo, Elephant Journal and other popular websites, a lot of new people are finding their way to the site. We felt a new […]

anonymous Jun 2, 2012 12:39pm

[…] wounds to headaches. While today’s patients generally aren’t seeking treatment for the former, acupuncture still helps millions of people treat everything from headaches to nausea to stomachaches to cramps […]

anonymous May 25, 2012 12:20am

by the way… I've taught yoga for many years, studied for more… and have a degree in molecular biology with special studies in acupuncture and neurotransmitter physiology…. if that is of any significance you anyone out there.

anonymous May 25, 2012 12:17am

real yoga is great. real acupuncture is great. but this is a load of crap.

    anonymous Aug 9, 2015 7:29am

    Agree, The greatness of Yoga does not need to be clarified by Acupuncture

anonymous May 24, 2012 1:35pm

I guess you could stimulate the bladder channel by rocking on your back like a rocking chair, like some yoga teachers and dvd's teach.

anonymous May 24, 2012 1:25pm

Sara! Amazing info! Kind thanks!

anonymous May 18, 2012 8:09pm

[…] The Real Reason Downward-Facing Dog Is So Good for You. | elephant journal. […]

anonymous May 18, 2012 4:23am

Awesome article!

anonymous May 17, 2012 7:18pm

This is a great article expounding the benefits of yoga, for the health of the body, which helps all else…
But it should be emphasized that just doing a pose will not give you the expected result….the pose needs to be done correctly, proper alignment, keeping the mind cool while the body works and hold it for a specific time…..this of course can be accomplished over time and with guidance….for example to get the health benefits of inversions like sirsasana and sarvangasana it is recommended to hold the poses a minimum of 5 minutes. without strain, you build up to this….