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In Praise of Down Dog
This Is Yoga's Most Popular Pose for a Reason

Downward Facing Dog Back in the olden days (say, the 1960s), when someone mentioned yoga, the image that came to mind was usually that of a blissed-out yogi in the Lotus Pose. These days, some people still think of Lotus, but more often it's Adho Mukha Svanasana, or Downward Facing Dog. Even those who are not familiar with Yoga's Asanas have at least heard of Down Dog ("Isn't there some sort of, like, dog pose in yoga?"). Downward Facing Dog (along with Uttanasana, or Forward Bend, and Shavasana, or Corpse Pose) is one of Yoga's most frequently practiced poses. Most Sun Salutation series include Down Dog. Without Down Dog, your body would have nowhere to rest during Power Yoga. If you're into Iyengar, you know that no other pose can torture as many different parts of your body at one time as Down Dog. And actually that's the whole point - that the pose affects so many different parts of your body (not the torture).

(Article continued below.)

No other pose so obviously impacts as much of your body as Down Dog. Sure, your body is supposed to be fully engaged in just about every Yoga pose - but isn't it more difficult to really get a grip on your shoulders and arms in Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II) than it is in Down Dog?

And take Crow Pose (Bakasana) - you really feel the effect on your upper body there, but you need to practice it for quite a while before you really understand how the lower half of you comes into play. With Down Dog, you feel your whole body engaged in the pose right away. If you're an inflexible beginner, some parts of your body may not feel too good! On the other hand, if you've been practicing Down Dog for a while, it probably feels great. This is an incredible stretch from your feet all the way up to your hips and down through your wrists and hands. The back of the legs, from the ankles to the calves to the hamstrings, are lengthened. The front of the thighs are active. Your lower back stretches and your abdominal muscles are engaged. Your shoulder blades and arms are stretched out. Your chest expands. Even the joints of your fingers - especially where they join the palms - are activated. Down Dog increases your circulation, especially to the brain, is rejuvenating and strengthens your whole body. It also teaches you a lot about awareness. This pose offers valuable knowledge that enhances the rest of your practice.

In spite of how commonly it is practiced, Downward Facing Dog is very complex and not easy to master. There's a lot to remember because so much of you is active. Yoga instructors can (and do) spend big chunks of their classes focusing on just one aspect of Down Dog. The pose changes - sometimes radically - for each Yoga practitioner according to what the body needs on any given day. Nearly everyone can practice Adho Mukha Svanasana, with or without the use of props, but who can do it perfectly? Because of this, its best lesson, perhaps, is teaching you to enjoy the journey instead of reaching for the goal.

Following are some suggestions and tips to make the winding road that is Down Dog more interesting, enjoyable and informative.

Next page >> Dogged Details >> Page 1, 2

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