If you are a yogi, then downward-facing dog is probably a staple posture in your practice (you may have never heard of puppy dog).
But as a yoga teacher for over a decade, I have discovered that not all down dogs are created equal. Many people, in all actuality, are simply too restricted in the upper body (shoulder girdle) to safely and properly practice this mighty pose. For those of us who are not so stiff, we are so loosey-goosey that we lack true stability to hold ourselves properly.
Several years ago, I wasin a training with Gary Kraftsow (creator of Viniyoga Therapy). He stated quite bluntly,
If you never do another down dog again in your yoga practice, you will survive just fine.”
He unknowingly stemmed my interest in this mysterious pose, and I soon began my quest to understand more.
Here’s the Quick Scoop.
Most of our daily postures, habits, and routines ask us to round our bodies forward in a kyphotic manner. This leaves many of us locked in a very hunched position. We allow minimal mobility in our scapulae, which essentially allow our actual shoulders to move. Add tight hamstrings and a lack of good core awareness, and you’ve got yourself the hunchback of downward-facing dog.
It is unfortunate that many repeatedly force themselves into this posture. They find any pinhole of flexibility they can grasp and milk it for all its worth. Because that is what they think they should be doing.
So what is a teacher to do?
The answer: Introduce her students to their new best friend — puppy dog. Puppy dog allows students to face the true restriction in their scapulae and surrounding muscles. In puppy dog, students are not able to sag into the underarm or bow outward in the elbows. The deltoids and adjoining muscles are too tight to move otherwise.
As for the hamstrings and rounded lower back… It’s now time to calm the ego and learn that bending your knees is actually a better option for both the hamstrings and lower back muscles. Plus, it will take the stress out of the shoulders (in down dog too).
Here’s How to do it:
- Grab a yoga block and turn it to look like a rectangle on the floor in front of you.
- Position yourself on all fours (hands and knees) in front of the block.
- Frame the block with the palm of your hand on each side of the block, palms facing inward.
- Step back into forearm plank and find pelvic neutral, drawing actively on your pelvic-core (bathroom muscles + deep core muscles). Be mindful not to sag in the belly or push the booty to the sky.
- With a broad upper back and a long neck, press evenly through the forearms from your elbow to the pinky finger.
- Exhale deeply and float the hips up and back as you take a small step in hinging the body into a triangle like position.
- Continue to press evenly through the forearms and inward on the block. Imagine you are ready to kick up into a forearm balance (basically push away from the floor, not to collapse into the upper body).
- If you notice the back very rounded, bend the knees to help gain length in the spine again. Even if the knees are bent, you can still press the heels and get a nice calf stretch.
- Finally, where the body is hinged (the hip fold), deeply contract the belly and pelvic floor muscles. Imagine they are drawing you back toward the wall. Your shoulders should not have to do all the work; utilize your core for that.
- Work five to ten breaths and then release to sit on the heels.
Incorporating puppy dog may take some getting used to, but the long term benefit for your practice, shoulder health, and progression to other poses will be priceless.
Have any questions, or want to learn how to use puppy dog in your practice? Join the Mindful Movement PREMIUM Online Studio for unlimited access to all my yoga classes, PLUS live classes, online community, and my entire Asana Video Library, breaking down poses (Just like this one!)
This post was originally published in Nature’s Pathway Magazine.
I can hardly believe it’s already time for the holiday spirit!
The weather has surely changed and it’s about time for… snow.
But we all knew that was coming.
Lately, there is not a day that goes by that I am not finding myself self so grateful for all that is around me.
So much has changed, yet so much hasn’t.
I look at my life and what I have realized is I have changed. Internally that is.
For so much of my life, I have always had “stuff” to deal with.
- stuff that was weighing me down
- stuff that was consuming my mental space
- stuff that was telling me I am somehow less than
And although I have forged forward through that all, it still was challenging for me to deal with, and the more aware of life, my thoughts, my actions, and what truly want in life and how I truly want to live.
I realized that this “stuff” had to go.
Maybe you can relate.
- maybe you too have been there before
Maybe you are dealing with the same internal work I was and continue to work on.
I have had a few people say to me recently “Hope, what’s changed”?
And to be honest, nothing and everything, all at the same time.
Yoga has played such a HUGE role in my life that I am so grateful to be able to continue to share it, and still, fifteen years later, be passionate about my offerings to the world!
Yoga allows change
In yoga, we are asked to get quiet.
On the mat we are asked to feel, breathe, and allow.
When we move a bit more slowly and methodically somethings amazing can happen.
We (for the first time) meet ourselves where we are with a gentle hand.
More than fifteen years ago, yoga met me with a gentle hand.
Broken and feeling very alone, I met yoga.
But who I really met, for the very first time, was myself.
See, I spent nearly my entire adolescent upbringing running from myself, running from feeling, running from my potential, running from failure, running from anything that I didn’t already know (even if it could be better).
Have you ever been there?
Have you ever felt so disconnected, so lost, so misunderstood?
Yoga is so much more than a place to physically practice.
And it doesn’t have to just be physical postures.
Yoga is an opportunity to expand yourself.
Yoga is a solution.
Yoga is an opportunity to not only see your potential but live it.
Every time you come to class, even though you don’t want to, or your couch seems cozier,
You are building up a strength to do the same with other “healthy choices”.
Every time you breathe through the urge to come out of a yoga pose,
You are also building up the skills to not give up in life.
Every time you sit with the discomfort of the pose, move, or thought,
It will only get easier out there.
Every time you allow yourself to feel, feel anything-anger, frustration, joy, bliss, sadness, forgiveness, happiness, whatever,
You are opening yourself to an outlet and an inlet for such an experience in your everyday life.
Every time you say yes to yourself in a self-giving, self-caring, self-honoring kind of way,
That will only help you for hours, days, weeks, years to come.
Come back to the mat: build courage, strength, and enrich character and life with yoga
A long time ago someone said to me
“Hope, the very things you don’t do are the EXACT things you NEED to do, and until you do them, they will continue to manifest in any and all areas of your life, over and over again”.
And how true these words were.
Yoga has allowed me to take baby, baby steps to building up the courage, strength, voice, ability, trust, and willingness to do such things in life.
And what felt like forever has now truly begun to come full circle.
See, if it wasn’t for my yoga practice (one that seeps into all areas of my life) I would not have begun to truly practice self-care and ASK for time to myself.
I wouldn’t have been able to tackle the hard aspects of my business, like learning finances, advertising, technology, and numbers.
I wouldn’t have been able to create reputable programs and a humbling reputation for offering some of the best yoga around.
I wouldn’t have been able to take a HUGE leap and step fully into taking my yoga tool box to the stage and begin my next steps in sharing my life, my lessons, my yoga to people beyond the yoga mat.
I wouldn’t have been able to successfully take on additional streams of revenue, that where I once flopped, I am now soaring.
I wouldn’t have been able to teach my kids a life that I wish I would have known when I was growing up.
I wouldn’t have been able to be here with all of you today to tell the story.
If it’s been a while, what gives?
Why have you been away?
If it’s been awhile, no stress, I have a spot waiting for you.
If it’s been so long, it just feels too long, the first step to making any change worth having, is to simply show up and the rest will just happen.
No matter how long it’s been, one day or three hundred.
I hope to see you on the mat really soon.
Not sure where to start? Join me on the mat ONLINE in my ONLINE Mindful Movement & Yoga Studio anytime, anywhere.
From my heart yours,
Yoga is it what we think?
Yoga begins in the present moment.
But what really is yoga? Many associate yoga with asana, the practice of physical postures; what many yogis know as the third limb of yoga (of the 8-limb path). But to be clear, yoga is so much more than that.
Absolutely, asana is a pathway, but what does it then lead to?
The first word in the yoga sutra is- atha, which literally means “now”. My initial understanding of yoga was the typical rendition of yoga, meaning to “unite” or “yoke”, but as Michael Stone puts it “this turns yoga into something one does, a form of willful activity”.
I have both practiced and studied yoga for almost fifteen years now, but to be honest, have only really truly understood the actual meaning of yoga and have worked to apply it to my life in the last few.
Taking this new approach to yoga has allowed both me as a yoga practitioner and as a person simply moving through this thing we call life to find more value in what yoga is trying to teach me (us).
When I think of these two drastically different meanings of yoga, it becomes apparent to me that initially, one may make more sense than the other. That one may be easier to digest, and in return, welcome more people into the arms of yoga; eventually leading those dedicated enough to the true understanding of what yoga is.
The full first yoga sutra reads “Atha yoganusasnam” which translates as “in the present moment is the teachings of yoga”.
So before we even get to asana, we are already told of the present moment…the now.
And it is in this present moment, in this balance between birth and death, darkness and light, the inhale and exhale, it is here, that we feel the completeness of what is: the silence that precedes all things.
In my life, I have come to the mat thousands of times already and although many come to the mat to receive the many benefits of yoga asana; could it be that the true goal of the action of yoga asana- is to step into the stillness that is the moment, not the asana itself? The place we meet our breath, we meet our body, we meet the asana or even another, on this pathway we call life, that we see it as complete.
So then, is it through yoga asana (or any of the other 7 limbs) that we strip away the layers of distraction, dissolution, and ignorance and fully accept and receive the present moment, the now, the silence.
I think about my experiences on the mat itself and after many years of practice, although I love the asanas, I love more where the asanas take me. As a teacher, it has become difficult at times to adhere to the requests students have to push hard, go deep and move beyond what I know and can sense they truly need at this time. But in a culture still blinded by the action of: doing equals success, truly teaching the meaning of yoga proves to be difficult.
The discomfort that arises with being still, breathing, and only focusing on that one breath. Asking your students to slow down and be in their bodies, rather than outside themselves, does soon pass. And it is the practice of asana that can peel away the layers of that discomfort, that distraction, so that you the practitioner can fully arrive in the moment, in the now, in the stillness and silence, so that we can truly understand that “yoga beings now”.
So it may be safe to say that asana is a practice of yoga, but is not yoga. And that through the mat we are given a more clear path, with instructions (hopefully) to guide us to what we now know yoga is…the experience of the moment we work to create on the mat, and the off the mat every single day.
To all the places your yoga practice may lead you, may it in the end, guide you to the one place that is always real, true and pure, the place that is not dependent on which pose you do when, or how long you can balance, or whether your practice is beginner or advanced. In the end, may what we call yoga always guide you into a full completeness and realization of the union of life.
From my heart to yours, from my soul to yours,
References: The Inner Traditions of Yoga by Michael Stone, 2008