Downward-Facing Dog posture, Adho Mukha Svanasana
, is a yoga classic, one of the first postures taught in any beginner's class. Its benefits are legion: It stretches and strengthens the shoulders, hips, legs, and back; relieves fatigue; improves circulation, especially to the brain; and both relaxes and energizes the nervous system. It's also a great pose in which to perfect the art of destinationless practice, because every step of the journey through it offers endless opportunities to stop and explore.
If you're new to yoga, you have an advantage: You'll naturally approach this posture fresh, without preconceptions and goals. If, like me, you've done it tens of thousands of times, it may be a bit of a challenge not to do it on autopilot; but that's where the joy of the practice lies.
Kneel on all fours with your hands directly below your shoulders, knees directly below your hips, and toes tucked under [Figure 1]
. Don't hurry! As Alan Watts once said, the purpose of dancing is not to get to the other side of the dance floor. Slow down and explore. Take a moment to tune in to your inhalation and exhalation. As you inhale, let your spine slowly arch, expanding the chest and lifting the head and tailbone as you drop your midback toward the floor. As you exhale, round your spine, tuck your chin toward your collarbone, and tuck your tailbone between your legs. Slowly sway your hips from side to side, enjoying the play of fluid sensations in your hips and spine.
Take a deep breath in and, on an exhalation, lift your sitting bones slowly toward the ceiling, keeping your knees bent at first [Figure 2]
. Feel as if there is a helium balloon in your belly, drawing your pelvis toward the sky. Then press your heels back and down to straighten your legs and press into your palms to lengthen your spine, so that your arms, neck, and spine are all in one straight line [Figure 3]. As you straighten your legs, savor the explosion of sensations in your legs, shoulders, and hips. Don't worry about how well you do the pose. Just hold it for 10 to 15 long, deep breaths, letting yourself feel, in as much detail as possible, the way it is right now. What sensations do you notice in your belly? Your face? Your heart? Your palms? The soles of your feet?
Now forget about the formal posture--travel through it and past it, letting yourself play and explore in all sorts of unorthodox variations [Figures 4, 5, and 6]. Let your body float on the wave of your breath, like seaweed on the ocean. Notice how your experience shifts as you hold the pose. Notice whatever new sensations and emotions arise, and welcome them like honored guests.
When you are ready to come out of the pose, come to all fours [Figure 7]. Notice the sensations flowing through you now. Forget about Downward Dog Pose; it's gone. Without expectations or regrets, open yourself to the next adventure.