I’ve always been a dog person. Ask any member of my family and they’ll happily regale you with stories about my childhood obsession with our four-legged friend.
Not much has changed. Well, apart from the fact that I longer insist on eating from a bowl on the floor. (As you can imagine, that peculiar phase was swiftly nipped in the bud!). Above, is my favourite picture of me with my current hound - the long, the low and the lovely - Lennie. She’s a Sausage Dog or Wire Haired Dachshund to give her the correct title.
So, it’s hardly surprising that working with one of yoga’s best known poses, the Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) has got me reflecting of my on-going relationship with ‘man’s best friend’.
Downward Facing Dog is up there with the balancing-on-one-leg, Tree Pose (Vrksasana) and the cross-legged Lotus Position (Padamasana) as the visual short-hand for yoga. But it’s almost always Adho Muka Svanasana that any film and TV programme goes to when they want to gently poke a bit of fun at yoga. And I get it, the name itself is amusing and it looks funny to see people sticking their bottoms in the air.
Dog, as it’s often shortened to, is also a pose that can look to a yoga beginner as being far more complicated than it is. That’s not to say it isn’t challenging, especially to those with tight hamstrings, inflexible spines or weak arms. Like any pose, it just takes a bit of practice to get the body and, more often, the mind used to the new movements.
This posture has a great many benefits on a physical, mental and emotional level. Above all it a great way to bring yourself into the present moment. Just like our furry, tail wagging companions when you’re in dog your attention is fully in the now, not going over the past or worrying about the future. And, it’s almost as if these cares and concerns are falling away down the legs and arms.
This the secret of the dog’s contented state; being fully present. (Well, that and a life-style of pampered poochery!).
The Dog is a great stretch, especially for the hamstrings (backs of the thighs) and gastocnemius (the calf muscles), as well as the latissimus dorsi muscles in the upper back. As with any inverted posture where the head is lowered, the Dog helps improve circulation to the head and brain. This is why afterwards you feel so refreshed and invigorated or ‘bright-eyed and bushy-tailed’.
On an energetic level, you may be aware of energy flowing from the base of the spine (mooladhara chakra) and up though all the chakras to the crown (sahasrara chakra).
I find the dog a great way to calm and refresh myself, particularly during busy times. It also makes me smile, because it reminds me of all those hours I spent playing at being a dog as a child. But, what really get’s my tail wagging is that I now have classes of people to play along with me!