One of the most easily recognized yoga asanas in the West is the Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) pose. It thoroughly stretches the back of the body, strengthens the arms and legs, lengthens the spine and because it places your head below most of your body, it can also calm the mind and relieve stress.
Since the downward dog pose opens your hamstrings, you may find some of the same issues arise as in the previous exercise, Feet to Sky. Your hamstrings connect you from the ground to your root energy center. These long muscles can easily tighten from days spent sitting down. The temptation may arise to push against their stiffness, to try to get “deeper” into a stretch, or to compare your hamstring flexibility with that of people around you. Should you notice this tendency, simply breathe, relax and witness it. Yoga is neither pushing nor pulling, but a relaxed state of alert presence. To allow yourself to be transformed by its potency is to surrender to the moment as it is, instead of seeking to impose your will on it.
If you suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome or other issues in your wrists, practice Downward Dog by adjusting to use your fists rather than your open palms. As always, never do more than 80% your pain-free maximum in any pose in YEM.
Let your breath be relaxed and natural. Breathe into your belly and rest your heels towards the ground, whether or not they touch the floor. Allow your breath to naturally engage energy throughout your body/being. Feel your broad hands and feet become active connectors with the energy of the ground. Allow your breath to keep your body open and spacious.
● From the ground, on all fours, inhale and open up your chest.
● Exhale and tuck the toes under, bringing your hips up and heels down.
● As you move your body weight back towards your heels, breathe into your belly. If the back of your body is tight, you may inadvertently put too much pressure forward on your wrists.
● Allow your heels to release towards the floor, opening up the soles of the feet, so that the energy releases towards the ground.
● Your arms and shoulder are neutral and open, allowing energy to run through them.
● Let your neck, head and jaw be as relaxed as possible, responding to gravity.
● The palms of hands are open, as they actively press into the floor.
● Take a few long breaths and feel your whole body breathing.
● Your tailbone is like a circuit breaker for the life-force that runs through your body/being. As you exhale, notice a subtle release in your tailbone towards your heels so that you let life-force energy run down your legs. This is essential in having a grounded pose. Feel your energy root.
● As you ground, let the crown of your head move away from your tailbone, as it too now releases towards the floor.
● Feel the length through your spine, from your tailbone, to the crown of your head. With breath awareness, life-force energy and gravity, you are creating spaciousness throughout your body. Allow life-force to move through your body/being.
● Remain in this pose for a few breath cycles. Scan your body, checking that you are not holding in any particular area: your shoulders roll open; your hands are broad and well-engaged with the floor; there is equal weight through and across the palms of your hands; your weight moves back towards your feet.
● Remember that your arms and legs are tubes of breath. With every exhale, your breath energy flows through them, through your hands and feet, into the ground.
● Keep your breath awareness anchored in your belly.
● When you have had enough, on the next inhale, bend your knees and bring them to the floor.
● Exhale, sit your hips into your heels, arms outstretched in the Extended Child pose.
● Pause here a few breath cycles before continuing your practice. If this is where you practice ends today, conclude with a couple of minutes in Savasana.
Parvati is an award-winning musician (“I Am Light”, “Electro Yog”, “Yoga In The Nightclub”), yogini (YEM: Yoga as Energy Medicine), author (“The Grace Mindset”, “Aonani of Avalon”, “The Three Supreme Secrets for Lasting Happiness”) and founder of the not-for-profit Parvati.org. All her work is dedicated to protecting all life on Earth by establishing the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary (MAPS). More info: parvati.tv; parvati.org.