In honor of January, which is WoYoPracMo (World Yoga Practice Month), I'm paying homage to Adho Mukha Svanasana (AH-doh MOO-kah shvah-NAHS-anna) the foundational yoga asana (posture) known as Downward Facing Dog.
Often during class your teacher will call attention to "the first Down Dog of the day" because it's truly a benchmark of your practice. The first Down Dog will not be as fully articulated, comfortable or as purely delicious as the ones that will follow. It is a pose you will return to again and again in Sun Salutations and vinyasas, and use as a kind of yogic home base.
Like most things that are simple, profound, and complex all at the same time, Down Dog is a snarly bitch on some days, and a warm puppy on others. I could probably devote my life to doing it better, or dare I say...perfecting it. Most yoga newbies are not taught how to do Adho Mukha Svanasana (the Sanskrit name for the pose) correctly. And very few people understand that it's a resting pose. This young woman is doing Down Dog pretty darn nicely.
Here's just a little bit of what I've learned about deepening this posture and milking its magnificent benefits.
- Think about engaging the internal "lock" called mulabhanda in your Down Dog. It's done by pulling up the perineum, tightening the anal sphincter, and pulling in the belly. It will give you added strength to help you fully articulate the pose. This lock increases and holds energy, channeling dormant energy from the base of the spine. It contracts the rectum, sexual organs, and navel. Women who have learned how to do Kegles to tone the perineum after childbirth, will immediately understand.
- Feel free to bend your knees a little if your hamstrings are tight.
- It's more important to "get" the sensation of rotating the thighs inward and keeping the tail high than sinking your heels to the floor. That can take years.
- Really spread your fingers...then press fully on your index finger and palms, like a suction cup, to take the pressure off your wrists
- Let your head and jaw really go...shake it up and down, left and right.
- Use ujayyi breath when you feel weary. Keep the breath powering your Dog.
- Ask your teacher, partner, or classmate to gently press on your lower back and tush to FEEL what how glorious the pose can be when your hamstrings are given a little extra help
- If your Dog is not happening, if your breath is labored, don't push. Come down on your knees and get out of the pose.
Downward Facing Dog is a
preparation for all of the standing poses and warms up the muscles for the rest of your practice. It provides a
crucial transition between poses, especially in Sun Salutation and Vinyasa yoga
style. Get a picture of it in your mind -- your body in the shape of the letter A or an inverted V. Think about lengthening your torso, not lowering it. The time you spend on getting your dog "down" is well worth the attention. Your back, upper arms, hamstrings and chest will thank you for years to come.