5 things I learned about downward facing dog from my actual dog

This blog has been more dirty than downdog….. UNTIL NOW.

Here goes:

1. It’s supposed to feel SO. GOOD. Blissful. Freeing. Watching her dangle her spine from her hips, you know she’s making juicy space between her vertebrae; stretching away the stresses of the day. That’s the point! The point is not to look like your neighbor, or to show off your kickass yoga hiney (though thinking about shining that fantastic boot to the ceiling can seriously help your alignment and energetics). So often, especially when practicing in public, we obsess over making the shape look a certain way at the expense of our comfort and expansion in it. Shoulders crunched up like earrings, lumbar spine hunched, tongue glued to the roof of the mouth. We are not fucking around.

blog forward facing dog.PNG
forward facing dog.

2. It’s okay to bend your knees. This pose is only about the legs insofar that the legs should be positioned (thighs internally rotated, pressing back) to support the release of the spine. Get that cockamamie image of grounded heels our of your head! If it happens, it happens, but it’s not the point. Yes, we want to press our heels downward, and slightly away from each other but only to optimally align the femurs to release the hips and spine.

In yoga, “it’s not about how far you go, but how you go.” I can’t tell you how many times I and millions of other yogis have injured ourselves trying to make a pose “look” a certain way; operating with that mentality (on and off the mat) is a surefire way to get hurt. I don’t blame you for trying. But stop it!

Do you think Winnie The Pup’s heels are down? No! Her heels are like a joint higher than we tend to think they are anyway. So, take your hamstrings out of the equation by gently bending your knees. Hell, bend them a ton. And if you start to feel the burn in your quads, BONUS. You’re getting stronger.

3. Her weight is 65+% over her haunches. Ever been adjusted in DD and the teacher latches onto your hips and leans back behind you w/ every ounce of their (albeit sometimes 90 pound) self?

You should be SO light on your hands. 

Um….. how??
In yogic alignment (and really when we’re trying to get anything right in any realm of life) we begin with the foundation; let’s start w/ the legs. And by legs I mean feet. Doe-Ray-Me-Fa’-Sew-La-Tea-D’oh

Feet are active, toes spread, arches lifting (achieved by pressing through big toe mound and lifting inner ankles), heels drawing energetically away from each other. That heel action has the effect of internally rotating our femurs, giving us more room in our hips to eventually straighten into our legs. For starters though, allow your knees to bend gently (especially if you’re one of my hyper-extenders).

The weight that is in your hands should be in your knuckles and fingers (which are clawing back towards you). Specifically, root down into the first knuckle of your index finger, where your pointer finger meets your palm. PLEASE. DO THIS. I didn’t for ten years and my wrists and shoulders are in bad shape because of it. Rooting down here grounds our shoulder blades onto our rib cage, home base. Safe. The rib cage then absorbs all the shock rather than the wrist bearing the brunt. Speaking of wrists, wrist creases should be parallel with the front of your mat.

Practice with your hands on the wall (making a square with yourself, the wall and the floor; wrist creases point strait up) to get the feel. Let your body remember this new way and rewrite your habits.

Finally, bring your gaze back. To thighs, navel, whatever your neck can handle while reaching crown to the mat.  Every time I give this cue in class, at least half of the hips shift back 2-3 inches, just by shifting their focus. Where attention goes, energy flows.

4. Navel is – wait…. do dogs have belly buttons?

No.

Right??

Okay, call it low belly – low belly is hollow, flying back to the spine and up into her rib cage, which is broad, full of breath and life.

5. This will feel more pertinent for my AZ brethren, as our fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk days feel just around the corner: I’ve been so hot in class that I knew I would pass out if I didn’t stop. I now know we come equipped with a remarkable thermostat regulator; our breath. When you see a pup panting, they’re releasing internal heat. Through pranayama (breath control), we can raise and lower our core temperature.

Believe it or not, downward facing dog is a resting pose. Let it be. Set your alignment up and then… Check in. Feel your breath, or, in my case, MAKE SURE YOU’RE BREATHING. If your breath is ragged or you’re too hot for comfort, open your mouth! Dispel heat the ol’ fashioned, four-legged way. We generally want to inhale through the nose, but please always feel free to exhale through your mouth and blow off some steam.

Try a Lion’s breath! Exhale with a roar through an open mouth reaching your tongue tip to your chin. You’ll sound insane so maybe save it for your home practice unless you have confidence of steel and give zero fucks (which, PM me, I want to learn your secrets and be just like you). Alternatively, just really give it your all whenever a teacher offers it. Let it feel good.

And there you have it. Please please please please please reach out if you have any questions.

I intended to include a picture of Winnifred in all her downward facing glory, and might have taken a brief intermission from writing this to chase her around the house and play bow at her. No dice. You can’t always get what you want. So, instead, here’s a video of her taking down a Great Dane (puppy. but still).

Peace, Love, and High Fives.

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