Hello and welcome to Yoga Poetry Radio. In today’s episode we will explore down dog. This is a floor practice. But as an exploration, you make this your own. Let my voice be a guide, and your body be your teacher. If down dog has not been your friend in the past, do this class near a wall, a chair, or any raised surface as a prop beneath your hands for the variation that lets you observe your body with interested curiosity. Some of my favorite places to do down dog are on a grassy hillside, or the rocky shoreline of Lake Superior, where the sloping surface can be used to take pressure off wrists, shoulders and hamstrings. It is important you do you here, so pop in some earbuds and make this dog your own.
Start by brining yourself to a comfortable seat. Close your eyes and turn your gaze inward. Welcome whatever you find. Bring your attention to your ground, where your body makes contact with the surface beneath you. Make note of how sturdy that support is.
Lets take a breath together. Exhale all the air from your lungs. Inhale through your nose. Open mouth exhale. Seal your lips and let your breath fall into its natural rhythm. Stay connected with your breath.
Pause here while you breathe and imagine yourself in this quintessential yoga posture. The inverted V. Hands planted, hips lifted, heels reaching down. Down dog is a posture in yoga that requires a lot of length along the back side of the body and strong core in order to hold your weight evenly and not dump it all in the hands or the feet. Do an imaginary body scan. From palms spread wide, up your wrists and forearms, because it is an inversion, elbows straight but not locked, shoulders relaxed away from ears, head and neck in line with the whole of your spine. This is one long line. Then sharp flexion at hips, both tailbone and pubic bone reaching back, bent knees, heels reaching towards the floor. Over time and with experience this posture is a resting posture. I know, right. It is a transition between poses, a return to baseline. To get there requires trust in the incremental change of returning to the limits of your range of motion again and again, and finding joy in the process.
On your next inhale bring awareness to your seat even as you draw both arms overhead and hold. Continue to breathe. Let your arms originate at the center of your body, lifting from your solar plexus, find lightness and space around your heart. Roll your wrists and wiggle your fingers. Inhale and on your exhale lower your arms down. Inhale just right arm high and lengthen your side body. Exhale lower. Inhale left arm high. Exhale lower. Continue back and forth connecting breath to movement and expanding your chest and ribcage with each breath. The repetition to warms up shoulders and lungs, observe with this toggling back and forth to see how you are made. Find gratitude for your shoulders in whatever state they are in. Whatever range of motion they have.
In May of 2021 I had a shoulder injury that took over a year to fully heal and to this day I still experience signs of it. It took me away from yoga for many months. My return taught me how to observe my limits and trust in the change. Our connective tissue is responsive to forming new shapes, but we have to approach that change with an interested curiosity and compassion which will allow us to let go of tension and our natural barriers to expand.
Let go of the movement and bring your arms to your side. Roll onto your back and lift legs straight up so that the soles of your feet face the ceiling. This is flexion at your hips and brings length into the backside of your body. Stretch your arms out long above your head and you are essentially in downward dog’s L shape. Point and flex your toes here. Roll your ankles one direction and then another. Return to pointing and flexing. Make fists with your hands. Feel your energy extend to your farthest extremities.
Draw right knee in. Left leg lengthens out long. Give yourself a little massage on your left hip crease. Switch and draw left knee in. Give yourself a massage on the right hip crease. Toggle legs back and forth, drawing one knee and then the next. Belly button to your spine to keep your lower back flush with the mat and floor. Bring both knees in, rock a little bit to get a lovely lower back massage. Bring your knees to the right for a spinal twist. Use your muscles here and honor your barriers. We are just warming up here and just coaxing a juicy limberness into our tissues with our care and kind attention. Draw your knees up and over and let them fall to the left. Use your muscles on this side and let the length come naturally. Make sure you are still breathing. Bring knees back to center and find your way to seated, and then to table top. Firm your foundation. Spreading the fingers wide. Shoulders over wrists and hips over knees. On your next inhale, find your way to cow dropping your chest and belly towards the floor. Gaze up, tailbone up. On your exhale, cat pose. Tummy into spine, tailbone down, head down. Continue on your own breath for two rounds.
The next time you get to cow, slowly and carefully turn your toes under and press into your feet to lift your tail to down dog. Take your time. Keep a deep bend in your knees. Experiment with going slow. Hands and feet generally stay where they are. Or maybe not, pedal them out, open the soles of your feet. Keep your heels high and move to explore your limits. Let go of your opinions of down dog and allow the wordlessness of experience take over. What barriers are you noticing at your armpits, shoulders, hamstrings? Be gentle with them. This is where a chair is your friend. Or the couch or a wall. Can you use a prop to stay at your edge with more enjoyment. You know what you need, give it to yourself.
Experiment with bringing weight forward and then back, then distribute your weight evenly. Can this feel boyant, the lift coming from hips and core rather than your arms and legs?
On your next inhale come forward to high plank. Take your time and lower your own way to belly on the mat. Find cobra pose. Keeping hands where they are and lifting head and shoulders. Pubic bone down and tops of feet down. Draw your Brest bone forward, small tuck of your chin so that your head is in line with your spine. Bring nose back down and lengthen through your legs. First right and then left. Inhale to cobra and exhale to lower. Continue on your own breath twice more. Full inhale, full exhale. back to all fours. Bring your seat back to your heels for Childs pose, keep arms out long or rest your forehead on stacked fists. Breathe into your back body for a moment and let your head be heavy. When you’re ready rise back to table top, toes turn under, return to down dog.
Can you enjoy this entry to Down Dog? Once you arrive, keep moving. Keep bend and straighten knees. Wag your tail. Pedal out the feet, massaging through the soles of your feet as you do the walking motion, back and forth. Let shoulders and head sink down. How does this feel on hands and wrists? Would you benefit from bringing your weight more towards your heels? The goal isn’t to get your heels down to the mat, the goal is to keep your spine straight and long. You can sink your weight back into your heels without sinking them all the way to the floor. Down dog is a weight bearing exercise and really strengthens arms and wrists. Balance the weight front and back and explore the difference. Use your fingers and thumb and don’t let all the weight fall into the heel of your hand. With time and returning, connective tissues will lengthen, muscles strengthen, and you find rest in this posture. I know from experience and you will too, after returning again and again, with interested curiosity and the eyes of an objective observer.
Bring your torso forward to high plank. Lower yourself to the mat. Lift to a final cobra Pubic bone grounded, breast bone forward, spine in one long line through the crown of your head. Breathe.
Find your way to table top. Sink hips back for one more Childs pose. Breath into your back body and ground yourself here. Floor solid beneath you. Inquire here: How do you feel now at the end of practice? Thank yourself for the time you just took attending to your body. Expanding your limits. Think forward to the time you can come back and do this for yourself again.
Rise to find a comfortable seat. We will close with the sound of OM. Listen along or join me. Bring your hands together at your heart. May all the benefits we just created be vibrationally sent out with this sound and shared with all other beings, known or unknown, nearby or far away.
If you chant along with me, or even if you don’t, feel the way the sound begins in your chest and moves up your throat across the back of your scull to forehead, and ends in your nose. The breath following will be for a silent om. Exhale. Inhale through the nose. Om.
Thank you for listening. If you find this practice useful and know someone else who may benefit, please share. Like and subscribe to help others can find it. Follow the show notes back to Songs of Forgiveness, my newsletter, to check out what else I share. At the home page to this episode there are resources for further study, if you want to take your exploration deeper.
Resources for Further Study:
Yoga Journal: https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/downward-facing-dog/
Eckart Yoga is a good channel. Here is their breakdown of down dog: https://www.ekhartyoga.com/resources/yoga-poses/downward-facing-dog-pose
I am a big fan of Yoga with Adriene. This is an early video of hers. She has been doing yoga videos for years and you can search and find yoga for anything you are interested in. Her take on Dawn Dog is very compelling so if you are interested to discover more. Watch this. Linked in her blog post was this article about Down Dog Posture and its relationship to acupuncture: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/acupuncture-points_b_1531601.