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

By Sara Calabro

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

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 (see picture at right).

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.

Photo by Sara Calabro
Bladder channel infographic from A Manual of Acupuncture

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Comments

Yvonne Liao
Reply

I didn’t know this pose is so good for the body until reading your article. Few months ago I started taking Yoga classes with my mom (I forced her to go with me), and the teacher always instructs us downward-facing dog many times in a session. Now I have this bit sense of victory that I’ve picked a good teacher. :-D

Sara
Reply

Hi Yvonne,

Cool that you and your mom are doing yoga together :) Enjoy those downward dogs! Hope you’re well.

Sara

nurit weinberg
Reply

Thank you Sara. I love your newsletter
and the varied informative information in it.
I’m looking forward to recieve your news, and always am happy to read it.

Sara
Reply

Glad you’re enjoying it, Nurit. Thanks for the feedback and for reading.

Sara

Christine Primavera
Reply

As a yoga instructor, I enjoyed reading about a deeper benefit to Downward Facing Dog. It’s so interesting the way you compare yoga to acupuncture. I would like to see more about this in future articles.

Sara
Reply

Thanks for the feedback, Chris :) It’s great to have a yoga instructor’s perspective.

Sara

Katie Samye
Reply

Hi i don’t understand why someone wouldn’t get the same benefits then from doing for example a seated forward bend. Can you talk a bit more about the specific areas and structures of the back / shoulders which are stretched in downward dog which make it particularly unique to activating the bladder channel. Thanks .

Sara
Reply

Hi Katie,

Thanks for the question. A seated (or standing) forward bend would also provide a nice stretch to parts of the Bladder channel. However, downward-facing dog is unique in that it involves the entire channel, from the head to the toes. A seated forward bend, for example, would leave out the lower legs, and a standing forward bend is more passive in the upper back, neck and head. Downward-facing dog actively engages all aspects of the channel.

Sara

CJ
Reply

Good article! My husband is an acupuncturist and I am a yoga instructor so it spoke to both of us! :)

Sara
Reply

I’m glad, CJ! Thanks for reading.

Sara

Barbara Summer
Reply

Hello, thank you for the downward dog information. Could you please e-mail me the complete article. I couldn’t access it to copy for my file and to show people this as well.

In your professional opinion, would this also assist in kidney health or is there anaother posture that would be better?

Many thanks in advance. Cordially, Barbara Summer

5 Best Complements to Acupuncture | AcuTake
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[…] regulate the flow that acupuncture strives to restore and maintain. For more detail on this, read this article about downward-facing dog from an acupuncture […]

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