Dastardly Downward Dog!
It’s of a pose for many of us especially those who are in the early stages of practice. Some of my students have been experiencing frustrations in Ardha Mukha Savanasana (Downward facing Dog), and my students challenges have led me to consider my own journey with the dastardly mutt.
With the skilful guidance of my teachers, I learned to patiently work through what made this pose physically and sometimes emotionally challenging. The following 5 steps are what can make your Downward Dog ultimately rewarding over time.
5 tips for taming your Dog:
Get to know the kind of Dog you are with today: Is this a tense or happy Dog?
A regular yoga practice starts to churn the barrel of emotions that exists within us. The ancient yogis discovered that these postures were not just making the body strong and healthy, the practice had profound effects on the mind. When we practice we are asking the body to squeeze, twist and hold itself in various shapes, shifting the prana (life force), moving blockages and rinsing out excesses. This squeezing can start to have subtle and sometimes profound effect on the mind. Often we are pushing deeply rooted feelings to the surface. We may first experience these emotions as physical pain and/or emotional discomfort (anger, frustration, low self esteem) or release (happiness, laughter). Tense Dog –Â breathe to soften into the pose.Â Happy Dog — wag your tail a bit!
2. What is the natural physique of your Dog?
On a physical level, Downward Facing Dog works the backs of the legs, hamstrings, shoulders, arms and wrists. With regular practice we learn to soften into the pose as we build strength, stretch and allow our bodies to open. For some people this takes more time as we are all structured differently anatomically.Â For example, some students may have naturally long hamstrings and find it easy to stretch their legs; others may have more of a curve in the upper back leading the posture to exert greater pressure on the shoulders, hands and wrists. Â Accept and play with what is natural.
3. Who let the Dog out?
My teacher has often said that “nothing is a coincidence and that everything that challenges you on your mat is indicative of challenges you are experiencing in your life. Ardha Mukha Svanasana is traditionally a “resting” pose, strong though it is for many people. It draws our focus within and encourages us to slow down, calming the fluctuations of the mind. A paradoxical way of looking at Downward Dog is as a transitional posture- a place between a fluid vinyasa and a rest in Balasana (child’s pose). In my early days of practice, I found this in-between place of downward facing dog difficult to visit. I later realize it was showing me my inner frustrations and discomfort. At the time all I wanted was to get out of it as quickly as I could!Â Now I cherish the time I have to transition!
Create precious time for your Dog on and off the mat.
4. A nervous Dog will mellow with time:
As I carried on with my practice I began to consider why I didn’t enjoy this challenging pose; why I felt I had to rush and why I found it difficult to be still. This was partly because I had suffered from periods of anxiety and low self-esteem for several years. I realized I had an ingrained urgency in my body to keep moving, to not fall behind of the group and not be the “last”. I had an innate sense of competitiveness in myself and my self-esteem was deeply affected by whether or not I was good enough in life. With time, a regular practice, and guidance from my teachers, I was able to let myself slow down and be less judgmental of myself on the mat. As if by magic this began to resonate in my daily life. I have become calmer and less judgmental of myself! Appreciate, encourage and reward
5. Wisdom from practicing with Down Dog:
Today, the dastardly hound has become a friendly mutt and an important compass for my body when practicing. It tells me where I am on my mat – I watch how quickly my mind takes to settle and feel any tightness in my body. This simple awareness practice allows my experience of yoga to deepen as I soften. Walk, Eat, Play, Sleep.
When we practice yoga regularly we may not always like what comes up. The ancient saying: “abhyasa-vairagyabhyam tan-nirodhahâ” from the Yoga Sutras tells us to “Do the work” (abhyasa) and then let go (vairagyabhyam). From a yogic perspective, this means, When we do as much as we can, the Universe will do the rest”.
We make a full-hearted effort and do the best job we can with what we have and then leave it to the Universe to decide the outcome. Do not try to control the uncontrollable. In applying this to your yoga practice, try to see any pose you find challenging in a friendly light. You will likely appreciate the helpful sign-post that is teaching you about yourself. You may not know why it challenges you but remember – being aware of a challenge is the first step to making positive changes. If you are already looking at why (repression of emotions, for example)… where you seek you will eventually find :
The 5 wisdom tips for taming your Dog:
Tense or happy = breathe or wag (and sometimes both)!
Time is precious â€“ on and off the mat!
Time is a reward to enjoy!
Stick to the basics (on your sticky mat)!
Now get out, get down, get going, get your Dog, and play!