Downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana) is perhaps one of the most widely known yoga poses. Even people who don’t practice yoga know what it is.

Believe it or not, there’s a lot more to this pose than simply using it to take a breather, and mastering your down dog will set you up to improve your entire practice. So whenever you get to take a brief break as you shift back to down dog, remain mindful of all the subtle ways your body is continuing to work and be challenged.

Here are just five interesting facts about down dog — one of our favorite yoga poses for all sorts of reasons!

It’s an inversion pose.

It’s common to visualize impressive headstands and handstands when we hear the word “inversions,” but downward dog is actually a gentle inversion too, marked by the head being lower than the hips. In fact, it helps pave the way toward eventually working up to those more impressive inversions like handstand by helping to strengthen the chest, arms, wrists, and core.

It has digestive benefits.

Pulling the navel toward the spine in downward dog helps keeps things moving along in the digestive system, even going so far as to benefit the kidneys and liver. Poses like down dog where the head is lower than the heart also helps promote good blood flow throughout the entire body, possibly even helping to relieve pain related to menstruation.

It can help strengthen the feet.

Anyone who has ever done down dog knows that it can be a big stretch for the calves and hamstrings, but even the feet get to be worked in this pose. This may be especially beneficial for those yogis who have flat feet. Staying in down dog a little longer while pedaling and lifting the heels up can help to strengthen all sorts of muscles in the feet and ankles too.

It can help you become more aware of imbalances.

Down dog is one of those poses that allows us to do a more thorough check-in with ourselves so we can see how we’re feeling as both the lower and upper parts of our bodies are activated and working together to hold us up in tht V-shape. The arms, legs, and back are all stretched at the same time, giving us the opportunity to pinpoint where imbalances might become more noticeable in places like the shoulders, wrists, legs, and lower back.

It can help you combat mild cases of depression and anxiety.

Down dog is a calming pose that not only stretches the whole body, but also helps relieve stress as well as mild anxiety and depression by encouraging the chest to expand and facilitating deeper breathing. We also get the benefit of increased blood flow to the brain without having to go all the way upside down like in other inversions, which can help relieve headaches, insomnia, and fatigue.

So next time you find yourself in class and the teacher asks you to stay a little while in down dog, take advantage of it. You’re improving and growing more than you know in this delicious resting pose!

Imaged (edited) via Lisa Cyr