When 256 year old man was asked about his personal secrets to longevity, in turn, the secrets he finally divulged are quite peculiar:
Confucius Said…’Walk Sprightly Like A Pigeon, Sit Like a Tortoise and Rest Like a Dog’.
Downward dog: the foundational resting yoga pose. The pose that is supposed to “reset everything.” The pose that feels so good to practice when you wake up and much better after the pose.
Have you watched a dog wake up and go into a perfectly deep stretch pose? When practiced, it connects to your center while stretching your body in a long line having a unifying effect, positioning your spirit within while you stay connected to the outside world. Adho Mukha means having the face downwards; Svana is a dog. Downward Facing Dog pose resembles a dog having a good stretch. Adho Mukha Svanasana or downward facing dog is one of the most common yoga postures practiced in class. It can also be one of the most challenging…Downward-Facing Dog is particularly challenging to new students because it works almost every part of the body. Rarely perceived as a “resting” posture, this asana functions as a great indicator of overall body tension and fatigue.
I want to draw attention to the roots of the foundation of this resting pose. The hands and feet are the only connection to the earth in down dog and so all the balance and alignment really rests on them. Engaging the subtle muscles of the palm and foot is essential for the integration of the whole arm and leg. The proper alignment of the spine flows naturally when the supports are strong and stabilized. When the spine is comfortably inverted in its neutral position like this, Earth’s gravity works wonders by inviting space and the flow of prana along the backbone and abdomen.
Adho Mukha Svanasana invites us to dig in and be still, and to listen deeply to the body’s wisdom. Focusing on a strong foundation invites ease and space within ourselves and in the world. It is not a static pose. It is a state of being. It is a form that follows function. If we want to improve our form, we need to improve our function. And, when we improve our function not only does “asana” emerge, we move into the form very quickly. When you practice downward dog with good form, your body feels better afterward. What is beautiful is to see how within one asana the holistic nature of yoga reveals itself. The down dog is a perfect example with an entire world to explore.
Dogs have excellent devotion and patience as well as genuine joy of living. It requires discipline to first get into the pose and then a sense of surrender to maintain it. It takes discipline to stick to your goals and surrender to maintain them. These two qualities of abhyasa and variragya or “discipline” and “surrender.” form the foundation of yoga. It’s the balancing and the blending of the two opposing forces of discipline (practice) and surrender (letting go) that create harmony. Downward dog is precisely the physical discipline of moving into pose and the letting go so as to maintain it.
Yoga is for everyone, regardless of age, body type, or physical condition. Everyone can benefit from downward dog. Yoga is not all about twisting, bending and flexing. It’s about much more than that, and that is resting and rejuvenating. See if you can bring that kind of quality to Down Dog and enjoy your practice!