“You must stop looking at the world through your head. You must look through your heart, instead.”
-Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray, Love
*Photos by Kathy McNames of Yoga Vermont.
This sounds like some serious hippie mumbo jumbo, I know. Through the years, I’ve heard yoga teacher after yoga teacher utter similar phrases. Until recently I’ve always thought, “Psh easy for you to say.” Then, I started to apply this concept to my daily life.
I am pursuing my yoga teacher certification without having nearly enough money to do so. My head says, “What the freak are you doing? How are you going to afford this?” My heart says, “This is changing your life, keep doing it. It will all work out.”
I started this blog without any blogging, marketing, or tech experience. My head says, “Seriously, I’m so screwed. I don’t have the time for this. It’s too much work.” My heart says, “This is changing your life, keep doing it. It will all work out.”
And, most recently, I quit my job. I could no longer sit at a desk and stare at a computer screen for 40 hours a week. I have so much more to give. My head says, “You have no solid source of income. You’re a quitter. If you can’t handle a desk job, how will you ever fit in in the workplace?” My heart says, “You are choosing to change your life. Keep choosing. Keep dreaming. Keep actively pursuing radiance and bliss. What’s money if you’re miserable.” It’s pretty obvious which of those voices is more accepting. Now, I’m not encouraging you to go out and quit your job because I certainly have no idea what I’m doing here, but I know it feels right. For so long I’ve been moving from one job to the next without any down time in between because I was too afraid of not receiving a steady paycheck. I’ve also never thoroughly enjoyed a past job. I’m almost positive that these two go hand in hand. So, for now, I am sitting, waiting, and listening to my heart. I’m searching for a job to feel good about and not just a job that provides a paycheck. I certainly don’t intend to live like this forever, but I definitely needed to stop and listen before moving forward. I’ve literally never been unemployed since I started working at age 15. I need some time….and it seems my heart has known that all along.
Oh yeah, you’re here for some yoga…
This brings me to downward dog. It was this pose that I detested when I first started doing yoga. It made me hurt everywhere. I felt clumsy and inflexible. Then, I realized that was because I was listening to what my head had to say. Once, I listened in to what my heart was saying, I absolutely fell in love with this pose. My heart was telling me that I am strong, still, content, love, light, bliss, and so many other things.
This pose is the ending posture in a sun salutation, which is the sequenced displayed below – mountain pose (tadasana), upward salute (urdhva hastasana), standing forward bend (uttanasana), plank pose (chaturanga dandasana), upward facing dog (urdhva mukha svanasana), and downward dog (adho mukha svanasana). I also didn’t really enjoy sun salutes when I first started practicing yoga, but now I find them almost as soothing as savasana (final rest pose). I feel my breath and movement synching up, and it’s super amazing.
So…let’s get to down dogging!
Downward Dog – Adho Mukha Svanasana
1) Start in tadasana (mountain pose) with feet touching and hand at your side. **Note if you’re like me and your knees are bony then your feet may not be able to touch…it’s all good
2) Inhale arms up above the head, palms touching.
3) Exhaling, fold forward into a standing forward fold
4) Inhaling, look at the floor and plant your hands. If needed, bend your knees so that your hands can comfortably touch the floor.
5) Exhale, step or jump back to plank pose.
**Note – You can also step or jump back to a plank pose variation, see below for the knees, chest, and chin variation. You can always break this step into several mini-steps by stepping or jumping back with your arms still straight. This will put you into a high plank pose. From there, you can bend at the elbows and lower down. Do whichever feels best for you!
6) From plank pose, inhale forward over the tops of your toes, straighten the arms, roll the shoulders down the back, and if it feels comfortable tip the head back. This is upward dog pose.
**Note – you can keep the thighs on the mat, or lift them off the mat for more intensity. Either way, be sure your thigh muscles are engaged. The biggest thing for me in this pose is listening to my body. My back does not like this pose, so I am constantly checking to make sure my bandhas are engaged to protect my back. I also take this pose with my thighs on the mat a lot as to avoid back pain. Please, please, please listen to your body!
7) Exhaling, press hips up and back into downward facing dog, being sure to roll gently over the toes. The goal with this pose is to get your hips as high as you can and to lengthen the spine. It’s much better to bend the knees so that you can send your hips higher than to arch the back with feet flat on the floor. Also, while in this pose the shoulders should be sliding down the back. We don’t want to wear our shoulders as earrings haha. Once you’ve gotten this pose to feel somewhat comfortable, rest in it for 3-5 breaths. This is a common “active” rest pose, meaning it’s where one can rest to tune into the breath, but really it takes a lot of strength and is a super active pose.
**Don’t worry if this pose feels like crap the first few times you do it. If you get into the pose and you feel like, “I don’t know what I’m doing. This doesn’t feel right.” It’s okay. In fact, you’re probably doing it correctly. I’m pretty sure everyone’s first 20 down dogs feel this way – at least mine did! You’ll get there. I promise it will get easier and will begin to feel more natural!
On a side note…
I just want to thank you for taking the time to read my posts on A Mindful Mantra. I, honestly, appreciate each an every one of my readers so much. I started this blog with little more than dreams and crossed fingers. I’m not exactly sure where A Mindful Mantra will take me, but I’m so grateful that you’ve decided to come along for the ride! Namaste.