Our Pose of The Month in April is from one of our senior teachers, Meg Laing, who shares one of her favourite poses with us.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (...Downward Facing Dog)
This asana is extraordinarily versatile, and so provides a rich vein of learning, and plenty of opportunities to experiment as our practice grows and matures. Guruji used to say that Adho Mukha Svanasana makes you want to practise.
Downward facing dog pose is certainly used very frequently in classes in RIMYI in Pune (and everywhere in Iyengar classes) at or near the beginning of a class because it ‘gives a wake-up call’ to the body. It involves, in a very obvious way, all four limbs and the whole trunk.
Adho Mukha Svanasana is by no means an ‘easy’ pose. It is not usually introduced to complete beginners because, to bring about good and beneficial alignments in it, one needs first to gain both strength and flexibility.
But once those have been developed, it is an asana that we can hold and stay in and allow developments to happen while we do so.
There are no balance problems with all four ‘feet’ on the ground and if the strength in the arms goes after a longer or shorter time, it is easy to release and undo and then redo to continue our exploration.
As our practice develops further, we begin to realise that we can focus on different ‘regions’ (vayus) of the body, perhaps in time harnessing also the breath in differing ways to bring the mind more into play too. Gradually we can find out that there are myriad ways not just of doing but of experiencing Adho Mukha Svanasana.
We find that it can be a preparation for almost any other asana we may wish to put after it, so that any following asana(s) are - in Prashant Iyengar’s terminology - ‘initialised’ by the Adho Mukha Svanasana, bringing elements of dog pose into their own development.
Because one is already upside down, it is very good preparation for inversions, with focus on the arms, shoulders and shoulder-blades (as well as the legs) providing training and initialisation for Adho Mukha Vrksasana (arm balance) Pincha Mayurasana (elbow balance) and of course Sirsasana (head stand).
- Focus on the pelvic region prepares for forward bends.
- Focus on the shoulder-blades back ribs and chest prepares for back bends.
- And thinking about the whole body, with special emphasis on the evenness of the sides of the trunk and the extension of the spine can help with Sarvangasana and also twists.
While we are still at the stage of developing our awareness and sensitivity towards these subtleties (which includes all of us!), there are numerous variant ways of doing Adho Mukha Svanasana (with or without props) to provide us with initial clues.
- We can have the hands turned out with the support of the wall, or the heels up the wall.
- We can raise the hands or feet on bricks or blocks.
- For a quieter pose we can have the head resting on a support.
- To focus on breadth and expansion of the trunk, we can have the hands and feet wider than normal.
- Or we can do with the hands and feet together to emphasise ‘gathering in’ the joints and maximising spinal extension.
- Those of us with ropes (or a strong door handle and a belt can have the top thighs supported and work for release and extension of the trunk with no strain on the arms.
For me Adho Mukha Svanasana is a ‘staple’ of my practice.