Why are you practicing Downward Dog?Oct 02, 2022
This question is not just about downward dog yoga posture. The enquiry can be expanded to question the practice of any pose.
Maybe we can ask what the purpose of any given pose might be.
For you. Not the general purpose. The general purported purpose you can look up in many available yoga books from all kinds of reputable yoga teachers.
When asking the question about the personal purpose of downward facing dog / adho muka svanasana in trainings and workshops I hear many different answers. In a recent training all but one had a different purpose for their practice of this pose. To be fair, not everyone had always thought about the purpose much, but they were reporting on what they felt was being stretched and worked in down dog.
Inversion, lengthening of the spine, shoulder stretch, hamstring stretch, calf stretch, resting pose, forward bend, wrist and hand strengthening, ankle mobility, shoulder strength, … and many more.
From a yoga anatomy perspective the interesting aspect, or for me the fun part of this exercise, is that none of the answers are exclusively right or wrong.
The multitude of answers merely show us the many focus options for this pose.
Downward facing dog is a posture that literally involves the entire length of the body, from the tips of the toes to the tips of the fingers and everything inbetween.
Well, that would be the ideal scenario. Hands and feet on the ground is in a way the non-negotiable part of the pose. Whatever we do with our body components and parts between them is up to us.
This is where the above question aims at. What do you think this pose will do for you when you practice it in yoga classes.
Sometimes we do it because the teacher says so. Take his or her word for it. It must be good for me, right?
Let me share with you I’ve treated a lot of yoga practitioners in my clinic who created discomfort in their bodies by simply practicing this posture without purpose. When observing students' practice, I still see many of these patterns widely adopted.
The reality requires us to participate enough in our yoga practice to notice and benefit from what good yoga postures promise to do for us.
Without, we are collecting brownie points for exercising somewhat (yoga is not the best form of cardiovascular exercise), yet do mild gymnastics that have a track record of not looking after the health of the body too well.
When you practice this pose, what are you focusing on? What is the purpose of this part of your practice? Do you have a reason for each yoga posture that you practice?
If you are a yoga teacher, what makes you choose yoga postures when you sequence a class?
For many yoga friends these are not easy questions to answer.
- How do we know what exactly we are supposed to do with so many options and instructions?
- And why does one teacher say this and an other something different?
Depending on your individual body, your physical posture, lifestyle, movement patterns and even more general health and stress patterns, your downward dog can easily be different from day to day. It certainly is different from the one the person on the mat next to you (or on the screen) is doing.
As yoga practitioners we are released from chasing perfection. The perfect posture, the perfect downward facing dog requires very unique adjustments, muscle engagements, stretches and points of awareness in each of us.
We could chase the exact right angle at the hip, the alignment of the arms with the spine, the heels on the ground or other features of this pose. Would these actions and alignments actually help us is a consideration we could have more frequently.
Learning and understanding about YOUR moving body opens the opportunity to make useful choices about what to focus on when you practice. Learning to listening to your body is putting your yoga anatomy, your journey of inner awareness, or inner mindfulness, to work.
When you know better what you are doing, you can practice each posture and movement better.
Next time you practice downward dog, pay attention to your reason for practicing. Can you feel your yoga anatomy in action? The use of muscles in one part oft he body to feel an elongation in another, the range of mobility at a set of joints, the strength in some region to support you, and so on.
Use this link to let me know what you discovered. I’d love to hear about your experiences with a new focus.
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Another related question is whether you from a perspective of what the pose can do for you, or what you can do for the pose. But that would be another chapter.
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