by Deborah Charnes
Poochy and Chester instinctively stretch their front paws forward, rear limbs back, arch and lengthen their furry torsos, and swoosh their tails. Frequently.
Yet Jack and Jill tend to be perma-hunchbacked in their soft-as-mashed-potatoes sofa watching the dumbo-tron, fingers glued to their smarter-than-human devices, with a bag of chips and can of soda on their laps. We must be in Kali Yuga.
Yogis know there’s a solution to counteract the bad posture and habits so prevalent in the Poochy-eat-Chester world we live in. It’s bouncing off the couch, and onto the mat. Gettin’ down like the dogs.
Just as cuddly canines are man’s best friend, adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog), is a yogi’s BFF, even if we don’t instinctively stick our butts in the air, and get our noses low to sniff out our territory.
Properly done, adho ukha seems to work out those Latin themed body parts: gluteus maximus, latissimus dorsi, transversus abdominus, soleus, tibialis anterior and erector spinae. No wonder this is a prime pose for the yoga medicus.
Yoga instructors may bark out general commands for downward facing dog. “Heels down. Bottom up. Knees straight. Shoulders broad. Head low.”
But here’s the low down: all dogs are not created equal. Pomeranians, Poodles and Pugs shake and stretch their booties to a different beat. So should their masters.
While you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, you can teach an old(er) student new ways to maximize the benefits of the asana. The mantra, “Yoga is a personal practice” can be exemplified with the many breeds of Down Dog. Here are a few helpful tips:
- Folks with carpal tunnel, or weight-challenges, need to protect the medial nerve. To alleviate pressure on the wrist, hang low in a Puppy or Downward Facing Dog on fists, or resting on forearms.
- For tight hamstrings, place those back paws a bit wider apart or with bent knees.
- Terminator bods can place hands a bit further apart, and point the fingers slightly outward.
- For those with hyper-mobile macaroni elbows, keep a slight bend in the joint.
- Get down with a Puppy, rather than Dog, to relax and stretch if your doc has given your spine a Latin name like kyphosis or severe scoliosis.
- Still looking to lift the booty? Elongate the spine by raising heels, with or without bent knees.
- Just like dachshunds needs to watch their backs, students with low back pain should try Hanging Dog to enhance the gravitational pull.
- As an added benefit to the ladies, Judith Hanson Lasater says, “Hanging Dog pose helps to stimulate the pituitary gland, which can positively effect its release of hormones, thereby easing the symptoms of perimenopause.”
- Ashtangis know that engaging the bandhas stimulates energetic flow and provides strength. Pointing the toes slightly inward is optimum for those with long hamstrings.
Pretty much anyway you wag your tail in Down Dog you’ll be activating the bladder meridian, which affects pretty much everything from head to tail: insomnia, asthma, menstrual problems, IBS, anxiety, and more.
So no matter how you do your dog, just do it.
Deborah Charnes is a certified yoga teacher with advanced training in Ayurveda and yoga therapy. A member of IAYT, she owns The Namaste Counsel and The Write Counsel. She currently resides in San Antonio, Texas with Chester. Namaste y’all.