Perhaps the most well-known and classic image of yoga, Downward Facing Dog is fundamental to the flow of sun salutations and features in most classes. Yoga practitioners at every level find familiarity here. Love it or hate it, it’s hard to avoid and as asanas go, this one is all-encompassing. Stretching and strengthening the feet, legs, back, shoulders, arms and wrists, Downward Facing Dog is energising and relaxing. It is said to boost circulation, digestion, improve bone density and release tension. In short, if this is the only practice you add to your day, you’re bound to benefit.
Often overlooked, it can be viewed as a mere transition: punctuation between cobra and lunge. Yet this seemingly simple pose requires total body awareness. Straight back, spread fingers, rotated elbows, core strength, lengthening in the back of the body, releasing the neck. It can be overwhelmed with detail to the point of losing the flow or rushed through in the many fast paced styles on offer. It reflects our way of life: rushing from moment to moment without pause, or thinking through every move to exhaustion, striving for perfection before we act.
It’s easy to miss the opportunity to stop for a moment and observe. Inward facing but powerful, engaging the whole self but only using what we need.
A common obstacle to absorbing the more subtle lessons of Downward Facing Dog is the frequency for beginners (teacher and student) to consider it a pose with a goal. That commonly understood goal being to get the heels to the ground. In reality, of all the benefits listed above, and the countless others, none will only be achieved when the heels contact the floor. This, then, is the profound lesson in the pose.
To let go of a predetermined and material outcomes and accept the practice for what it is, allowing the unexpected but deeper benefits that abound.
Just stopping to ask what your mind is telling you at any given time can offer profound insights, both on and off the mat.
Routinely adopting a posture that draws on every part of the body can develop a more expansive awareness in general. When we notice the whole body and all of its isolated parts at once, we bring this consciousness from the mat into our life. Seeing more than just a single, isolated point of view and opening to a bigger picture we invite change.
From here, we really start to appreciate the advantage of a stable base. With a strong foundation and the core engaged we can maintain movement, ease and flexibility. In the same way, we needn’t lose our essence when we open up to new ideas or methods. Try it in the pose – moving with the breath, pedal the feet, roll sideways, forward into plank and back, raise the legs, and bend the knees. So much movement is possible from here while staying connected to the core. A posture than can feel physically demanding at the outset soon becomes relaxed and easy, not only through increased physical strength or flexibility, but by connecting to the inner power that comes from simply being yourself and knowing what you can let go of.
In Downward Facing Dog, we feel our entire physical body lengthen and strengthen as we let go of myopic goals, enjoying the benefits regardless of where our heels are.
As leaders, we become open and constantly evolving while maintaining a deep connection to our intuitive root. This is true strength and flexibility.