If you are a seasoned Yogi, Down Dog is something you’ve done quite often. If you are new to Yoga, or even if you’ve done a million Dog Poses, you might be asking, “What does a Downward Dog do anyway?”. “What am I supposed to feel, and do to get it “right”?”. Adho Mukha Svanasana, or Downward Facing Dog Pose is technically a forward bend (but a very active and slightly upside down one) and is meant to create head to tail lengthening (called “axial extension” in the anatomy world). As my teacher put it, “the softer your joints, the lighter you’ll feel”, and in this pose it is especially true that slightly bending the knees and elbows can free you up to relax more into the pose. This is a hard pose! A great way to enter into this doggy experience is not on the mat but while you are in the kitchen (believe it or not). Try reaching your arms out in front of you first and draw the arm bones into your shoulder sockets and feel the “armpit” muscles” engage. Then place hands on the counter and lengthen back into a table top position with your spine; with feet under hips and soft knees; inner thighs toned up. It is a challenge to let go of the shoulder muscles – even at the best of times. Try releasing your neck and shoulders when all your weight is balanced between arms and hips. When you do Down Dog on the mat, you bend over, place your hands and feet about 4 feet away from each other, and lift your hips up and back (as in “wag the tail”). It feels really good to let the head snake out of the shoulders like a turtle out of it’s shell. Your shoulder blades draw up onto your ribs when your engage your “serape” muscles; the muscles that wrap around you from your sides and “tie” into your belly. Try keeping the elbows (and knees) soft, slightly bent as I mentioned; it makes it easier to play with the shoulder blades and get them to lift off the neck. There’s a tendency in this pose to lock out and try too hard. Put your effort into pressing the front arch of the hands and all 5 fingers firmly into the mat and deepen the breath into the ribs. When you exhale, imagine a gurney around your center pulling you up and let your belly be the force that “suspends” your weight. As you inhale, expand the ribs (and low belly) and open the waist. Your exhale can “squeeze” the ribs and engage your core from all sides. Yes, this will tone you up! Yes, this pose stretches the hamstrings. Yes, it is a good pose for energizing and waking up your energy. It is also a great detox pose. But use caution if you have any shoulder, wrist, neck, heart, eye, sinus or headache conditions as this is an inverted pose. Check in with a trained teacher. Check in with your inner teacher. You have one! Always keep checking in with your breath; is it getting too rapid or restrained? Slow the breath down and exhale through your mouth to cool off and “chill out” a bit. Feel free to to come down and rest with hips over heels and chest over thighs or on “all fours” as you need to re-group occasionally in this pose. What if your “Dog” did yoga? What Would Your Dog Do? Doggies naturally shake! Shake out tension and swivel side to side. Keeping your Down Dog Pose fluid will not only release joint, muscle and nerve tension, it will also maximize detoxification, lymphatic return, fascial release, and enjoyment! This will enable you to find that “happy place” in your pose. The sweet spot in your Adho Mukha Svanasana is when you can take an easy breath (or a few) and lengthen from head to tail, even while you stay playful. How “should” you Do Yoga? Sniff….Breathe…Streeeetch…..then Rest A LOT.
Tonight I’m making stock overnight so that in the morning I can cook up one of my favorite Yoga Soups in the crock pot while I go off to teach; Moroccan Lentil Stew. Here’s what goes in: red lentils, red onion, sweet potato, lemon, cilantro, and digestive spices like garlic, ginger, coriander, cinnamon and clove. This Soup is so nurturing and soothing it should be called Restorative Yoga Soup! I love soup because it loves me. It is easy to digest, easy to cook, easy to individualize; add a garnish, serve only the broth, mix with a whole grain; the possibilities are endless, just like Yoga. Perfect for this Fall season, and really easy to make. My youngster loves to slurp this one! I will attach a recipe very soon! Now it’s off to bed for a nice reclined Goddess pose (Supta Baddha Konasana) to unwind this cooks legs. While I put my dogs together, and let my knees gently open, the Yoga magic unfolds at the same time as the veggies in the stock cooking down in the kitchen release their delicious flavors. Check back for more on Moroccan Red Lentil Yoga Soup and Evening Goddess Pose!