Dog lovers will relate. When Poochy stretches her front paws forward, and her back limbs back, she looks so comfy. Relaxed and energized at the same time. It’s a position she favors many times a day.
It’s an instinct when Fido gently arches and lengthens his back and limbs, yet modern man hangs out hunchbacked. There’s a solution to counteract the bad posture and habits so prevalent in a sedentary, couch potato society.
Beyond the child’s pose, probably the most well-known yoga asana is Downward-Facing Dog (adho mukha svanasana), and it’s not uncommon for yoga instructors to bark out the commands. “Heels down. Bottom-up. Knees straight. Shoulders broad. Head low.”
Just as a dachshund and a pit bull have anatomical differences, so do their owners. Therefore, not all Down Dogs were created equal.
Down Dog connects our four human paws to the earth. Just as our ancestors, the apes, were quadrupeds, in Downward-Facing Dog, we go back to our essence and connect to the earth.
Properly done, adho mukha gives your body a wonderful workout. On the skeletal side, Dogs engage the scapula, shoulder joint, humerus, elbow, ulna, radius, wrist, and hand during this dog. Forward bends benefit the body by stretching the hamstrings, gastrocnemius, Achilles tendon plus plantar fascia. Other muscles we activate are the deltoids, trapezius, rhomboids, pectoralis minor, serratus anterior, latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus, transversus abdominus, adductors, soleus, tibialis anterior, and erector spinae group.
While you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, no matter how long you’ve been practicing, you can maximize the benefits of the asana by adapting to your needs. The mantra “Yoga is a personal practice,” can be exemplified with Down Dog in its many variations or breeds.
Kellie Adkins, director of the Wisdom Methodtm School of Yoga, a university-style advanced teacher training program accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapists, suggests varying the hand placement, among other things.
For those with muscle-bound shoulders and backs, she suggests they place their hands a bit further apart, and point the fingers outward, rather than having the middle finger forward. This allows them to have more space between their shoulders.
Mind/body connection is always key, so the pose should “feel right.”
“To do Down Dog is to activate the bladder meridian’s 67 points…” explains MaryAnn Reynolds, Austin-based massage therapist, reflexologist, yoga teacher, and wellness coach. “The bladder channel is our first line of defense, so activating it boosts immunity. There are also “Back Shu Points” located along the bladder channel…associated with … chronic issues like insomnia, asthma, menstrual problems, IBS, anxiety, and so on.”
So no matter how you do your dog, just do it.