Mountain Pose (Parvatasana) and Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) are two essential postures for any yogi, so you will often find yourself arriving back at these positions at different times in your practice. The two are closely related, so it can become easy to confuse what each requires, possibly leading to incorrect practice. How, then, are these two asanas different?
There are many differences between mountain pose and downward-facing dog, with the most significant difference in the upper body. A downward-facing dog requires the back to arch as your shoulders rotate out, bringing your head towards the mat. The back should remain straight and strong in the mountain pose.
Although so much is similar between these two poses, such as the basic shape and some of the benefits they offer, there are important differences between them. In order to do each pose correctly as it was intended, it’s important to understand the essence of each asana. We will see the differences in alignment and where you will likely find each pose in use, and also look at some modifications you can practice to use proper alignment in your yoga journey.
Downward facing dog vs Mountain pose: The positioning of the Feet
Both positions require the feet to be parallel to each other. The feet will serve as a base for grounding and stability in each posture. The feet should not be turning in or out in this position. However, the distance between your feet will vary in each of the poses.
Mountain Pose Feet Position
In Parvatasana or mountain pose, the feet should be placed right next to each other. By placing the feet in this way, you create a sturdy foundation in which you can practice the strength and stillness of a mountain.
Downward-Facing Dog Feet Position
In a downward-facing dog, you will step your feet a bit further apart from each other. Instead of having them planted side by side, you will step them out to be about hip-width apart. Take special care to ensure the feet are still parallel to one another and do not tilt in even with the extra space.
With time and practice, both feet should be placed gently and completely on the mat. This applies to both mountain pose and downward-facing dog. Here, the heels should comfortably rest on the mat without causing tension and strain in the leg muscles.
However, this can be a challenge for many yogis, and it is important to allow the body to come to this position with the use of time, not the use of force. Later on, we will look at some modifications to help support the heels and tight leg muscles.
Downward facing dog vs Mountain pose: The Positioning of the Back
One of the most noticeable and essential differences between these two postures is the positioning of the back. Let’s see which requires an arch and which requires lengthening.
Mountain Pose Back Position
As the name suggests, your back will create one of the sides of your beautiful and sturdy mountain shape. In this asana, your head and neck will be a natural extension of your spine, everything in line without curving or arching. You will be bringing a beautiful stretch to your spine as you lengthen it in this posture. Your overall body shape here will appear to be an inverted letter V.
Downward-Facing Dog Back Position
In a downward-facing dog, your spine will have a slight arch as you open your chest. This positioning will create space for your head to come down further to the mat. As you progress in this shape, your forearms will begin to come more parallel to the mat, creating even more space for this arch.
Downward facing dog vs Mountain pose: The Positioning of the Shoulders
When it comes to the shoulders, they have different functions in each of the positions. In mountain pose, the shoulders will remain in their natural, straight alignment. Arms will be extended and straight. Hands will be firmly planted on the ground.
However, in a downward-facing dog, the shoulders will rotate out. This rotation creates space for the body to mimic a dog’s expression having a deep stretch with back arched and chest opening. This shape will also help release tension stored in the shoulders and upper back part of the body.
Downward facing dog vs Mountain pose: The Positioning of the Head
The last alignment difference between these two asanas is in the positioning of the head. In mountain pose, your head and neck are in line with your spine. Your gaze should be gently sent forward.
However, in a downward-facing dog, your head is coming towards the mat. Your gaze should be inwards, towards your belly-button instead of out in front of your mat. This positioning will naturally bring a bend to your neck, allowing the top of your head to lower down further.
Where You Find Each Asana
If you are used to practicing Vinyasa flows or an Ashtanga series, you are more likely to have a downward-facing dog as a staple of your practice. Of the two poses, it has taken on more popularity in the West. For this reason, you are perhaps more likely to practice it in a general yoga class as well.
However, if you practice more traditionally or practice classical Hatha flows, it is more likely that you are familiar with the mountain pose. In the most traditional version of the Sun Salutations or Surya Namaskar, you will find mountain pose as opposed to downward-facing dog included in this series.
Both mountain pose and downward-facing dog are beautiful asanas that offer many benefits to the yogi who practices them. To understand the subtle differences between the two, let’s first explore what each pose entails.
Mountain Pose (Parvatasana)
The intention behind practicing this asana can be found in its name. A mountain is one of the most grounded, stabilized natural landforms in the world. This asana is named in this way to help guide you into a strong and stable state. You can bring this energy with you as you practice this particular asana.
How To Do Mountain Pose
From a tabletop position, which is to say starting in Bharmanasana, tuck your toes and lift your knees up off the ground. Send your hips up and back, allowing your fingers to spread widely and ground down into the earth. Your hands should not move at this time, and they should provide you with stability.
In this pose, you want to keep the spine straight, from the base all the way down to the top of your head. If you feel like your back is rounded, you can try adding a slight bend in your knees to straighten your back. Your feet should be close together here. Breathe into this posture, feeling the strength and the stability of a mountain.
From this posture, you can transition to many other asanas smoothly. You could step your feet forward to meet your hands, bringing you into a forward fold. If you bring your knees back down the ground, you will be back in the tabletop position. You can step forward, crossing your legs and ending in a cross-legged seat. This position can also be used to move forward into arm balances, such as a crow pose or even a handstand.
Benefits of Mountain Pose
This pose is extremely beneficial for many reasons. As you practice stability in this posture, you will naturally build strength in your arms, wrists, and legs. As you give the spine a chance to lengthen and stretch, you allow blood and energy to flow more easily up and down in this region. Additionally, since your head is below your heart, you benefit from increased blood flow and circulation.
Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
As opposed to moving into this pose with the sturdiness of a mountain, you can bring to mind an image of a dog stretching after a rest. Its back is arched, and it is expanding its whole body. It is a playful and flexible moment of revitalization. This image will help guide you into the essence of a downward-facing dog.
How To Do Downward-Facing Dog Pose
You will begin the same way you would for mountain pose, on all fours in a tabletop position. Your knees will lift, and you will send your hips up and back. Remember, you will want your feet hip-width apart here. Keep your feet parallel and strong. Your hands will maintain the same positioning as they would in a mountain pose.
Now, focus on the sensations in your upper body. Your shoulders should rotate out, letting you squeeze them closer together in your back body. This positioning will naturally allow your chest to open and your back to gently arch. As this happens, you will create more space to lower your head down.
If you need, you can place a block on the ground for your forehead to have something to rest on comfortably. As your shoulders continue to increase in flexibility, and as your back can comfortably and naturally move into an arch, you can work to lower your forehead all the way to the mat.
Benefits of Downward-Facing Dog
The benefits of this pose are similar to that of the mountain pose. You will be building strength throughout your body from your hands and your wrists all the way down to your heels. It is also a chance to stretch out your back and relieve tension in your leg muscles.
Additionally, since this position involves opening the chest space and rotating the shoulders, you will feel some benefits here as well. These areas will become strengthened and opened up, increasing the flexibility and releasing any tension you are carrying there.
Finally, like mountain pose, the downward-facing dog will help get the blood flowing and release stress associated with anxiety and mental agitation. You will come out of this pose feeling calmer in both the body and mind.
Modifications for Mountain Pose and Downward-Facing Dog
With time and practice, you will progress in the shape your body makes when practicing either of these poses. However, if you are currently struggling to hold either of these asanas comfortably, there are several modifications you can try. Modifications are a great way to honor where your body is today while continuing to deepen your asana practice.
Support for Lifted Heels
A common struggle for many in either of these positions is getting the heels to rest comfortably and easily on the mat. For a few reasons, this can be mostly to do with flexibility in different muscle groups in both the legs and hips. There is nothing to worry about here– overtime, as you open up in your legs, you will be able to rest your heels more comfortably on the mat beneath you.
Until then, you can consider placing a blanket underneath your heels in order to have extra support. This modification will allow the ground to come up and meet you where you are. Additionally, you can try to gently bend your knees. This will allow you to maintain proper alignment while alleviating some stress in your tight leg muscles. Always remember to breathe deeply, sending your breath to any area that feels tension or intense sensations.
Support for Tight Wrists
Another place people may experience discomfort while performing either of these asanas is in the wrists. As you perfect your alignment and strengthen your hands and wrists, this will become less of an issue over time. Until then, you can try this modification to hold this pose more easily.
Here, you will keep one arm in the normal position for a mountain or downward dog while the other arm moves into the dolphin pose position. This means one of your forearms comes to lay flat on the mat. This modification works better for a downward-facing dog but could be gently incorporated into either for wrist relief.
It is up to you to choose which forearm you would like to lower. You can choose based on which wrist is feeling more sensitive to the tension. You can consider switching arms midway through the posture as well. Either way, this modification allows you to keep moving with the pace of the class while giving your wrists a rest as needed.
Support for Tight Muscles
You may notice it is more difficult to comfortably move into either of these postures at the beginning of class versus later on in your practice. The reason for this is as your muscles warm-up, they will be more flexible. There are so many muscle groups involved in downward facing dog and mountain pose. Because of this, it is important to make sure your body is warm before you move into these postures fully.
It might be obvious that flexibility in the legs is necessary for these poses. It may be less obvious that the hips must be warmed up as well. The fold should be occurring at your hips, as opposed to in your spine or lower back.
If you are not properly warmed up or if you are especially tight in your hips, you may end up straining your lower back as you bend improperly. Remember not to force any particular shape, and consider bending your knees slightly to help with tight muscles.
Warming up your hands and wrists will help you set a solid and pain-free foundation at the front of your mountain or down dog. Doing a few cat cows will help warm up your spine and prepare it for these positions, particularly down dog. As you move through your practice, your hips and legs will become increasingly warmer. Move into your first few downward-facing dogs or mountain poses gently and observe how the shape changes as your body opens.
Tadasana vs. Parvatasana
Some of you may still be wondering,” but isn’t mountain pose a standing position”? With the English naming of the asanas, it would be easy to get confused when hearing the term “mountain” and “pose” together. This is because Tadasana, a standing position, is also often referred to as mountain pose. What’s the difference?
Tadasana is more accurately called “Standing Mountain Pose.” This is the position where you stand with feet planted firmly on the mat and arms at your sides. With eyes opened or closed, you engage the different muscle groups in your body. This helps to activate energy flow and develop greater awareness of your body. Here, you should also be strong and still, like a mountain.
Parvatasana, the pose we focus on in this article, can also be referred to as the grounded mountain pose. When comparing the more complete names of standing mountain and grounded mountain, it becomes clearer which pose. In this way, the confusion can disappear.
Downward facing dog vs Mountain pose: Conclusion
No matter which pose is common in your practice, whether it be Parvatasana or Adho Mukha Shvanasana, knowing the differences between the two will help you practice either more accurately. The next time you move into either of these positions, you can pay special attention to the positioning of the feet as well as where you direct your gaze. This deeper knowledge will help inform your alignment and deepen your yoga practice.