Me… in an imperfect Down Dog
When I began practicing yoga in the late 70’s downward facing dog aka Down Dog or Adho Mukha Svanasana, was just one of many poses/asanas in a class. Depending on the type of yoga one practiced, it was likely that down dog would not be included, as was the case when I practiced Kundalini yoga. But today, particularly in the U.S., you can’t take a yoga class without the constant insertion of Downward Dog. It seems yoga instructors and students alike have become Down Dog obsessed. Recently, I took a class that was for hip opening (stretching the hip muscles) and seemingly out of nowhere the instructor says, “ let’s do a couple of Down Dogs, after all what’s a yoga class without a few Down Dogs’. That statement confirmed my suspicion that there’s definitely a Down Dog frenzy going on and it’s been going on for a while now. But what about cats? My cats do this stretch several times a day and they never refer to it as Down Dog!
All jokes aside, I prefer Down Dog where I first met up with this spine warming and inspirational (breath increasing) series known as “Sun Salutation”. In that series I had a sufficient interaction with Down Dog. But these days, Down Dog is like a poster child, very prominent throughout yoga sessions near and far. I remember taking a class a couple years ago at the YMCA. The teacher literally had a Down Dog in-between every other pose in a class that was listed as “Classical Hatha Yoga”, which was why I took the class. I was looking for a restorative class, on this particular night. I was exhausted from weight training and just wanted to relax, repair. So it was a bit surprising that there were all these Down Dogs in this class. I was also aware that the instructor had studied under the same Yoga Teacher Training program I had, which taught classical Hatha Yoga, a yogic style that keeps Down Dog firmly planted in the Sun Salutation. Later I approached the instructor about this and he basically confessed that he was caught up in the expectations of the students. He shared that we are living in a time where Down Dog is expected to be a prominent asana in yoga classes. In other words, are you a real yoga teacher if there aren’t Down Dogs in the practice?
Sun Salutation – From Yoga Wisdom For Everyday
I’m guess this proliferation of Down Dog may have begun when the Vinyasa style of yoga became popular in the 90’s. Down Dog can be a part of each asana in the Vinyasa flow. Admittedly, Down Dog has a number of benefits like building bone density, increasing circulation, building stamina, and stretches the entire back of the body starting from the ankles, up the calves, hamstrings, glutes and the back itself. And it also strengthens the arms and shoulders. So I’m not saying throw out the puppy with the bath water… But it would be good if it took its rightful place along with all the other poses.
Shoulder Stand / Salamba Sarvangasana -Pic from The Chicago Yoga Center
With yoga there is an expectation of balance and this Down Dog proliferation has made it seem more important than other poses. Each asana has its benefits and attributes. Like a person stuck on a deserted island, if I had only one asana I could choose to do for the rest of my life (though that would be a hard choice to make) I would not choose Down Dog, nope! I would choose a pose that was more well rounded. Actually, I would probably choose my least favorite asana which is shoulder stand. Shoulder Stand benefits the entire body and is known as the king of the asanas. It allows all the organs to get a rest as fresh blood flows toward the organs and gives the heart in particular a great rest. But if Down Dog is your thing, please don’t be offended. This is a little tongue-in-cheek and I’m just admitting (publicly) that yes, all this Down Dog obsession, has become my pet…peeve ;). As time goes on perhaps things will balance out with this pose, some other pose will take it’s place as the star asana. I’m looking forward to Down Dog taking its rightful place in line with all other asanas. In other words, down… dog!!!