How you get on with particular yoga postures can tell you a lot about yourself. Your yoga practice can tell you how your body, mind and emotions are today – if you’re willing to listen!
It’s particularly interesting to listen when you come across a posture you repeatedly struggle with, find more challenging than others, or one you resist practising. I’ve previously written about Sitting Forward Bend.
Another posture which can have its challenges is Downward Facing Dog.
For many years this was a posture which I rarely experienced beyond the physical aspect because I was always thinking about where my feet should be, telling myself I should have straight legs and worrying that I should be able to get my heels to the floor. So I’d find it difficult to relax and breathe into the posture.
So, why the struggle?
Well, it’s an inverted posture, which can be a bit scary for some. You may worry about balance and falling or not like the feeling of blood moving towards your head. Also, tight hamstrings and stiff shoulders can make the posture more physically challenging.
Looking back I’ve realized that I was so busy thinking about the posture I used to forget to breath.
On an energetic level, Dog helps us to let go of the past and brings you into the present.
If there are issues you are holding on to you could struggle with relaxing into this posture because, on an unconscious level, you’re not willing or able to let go and let the posture reveal its benefits.
In energetic terms, Dog’s main focus is the base chakra, or Mooladhara, which is related to feelings of security. Perhaps if those feelings are lacking, practising a posture which focuses on this area – and encourages the free flow of energy throughout the spine / chakras – can be a little over-whelming.
However, if we persevere with our practice the benefits of the posture can help to ease the conscious or unconscious fears or resistance we feel.
Tips to help in this posture
I’d advise you to focus on lengthening and flattening your back when practising this posture, rather than focusing on getting your heels to the floor, as this will enable the free flow of energy through your spine and help to release stuck energy from the lower energy centres.
So as you move into the posture, keep your knees bent as you lift your hips into the air, focus on lengthening and flattening your back. Also, focusing on lifting your coccyx (base of the spine) into the air can help you to lift the hips up more. Only then bring your focus to straightening your legs.
Also, stepping your feet further apart, e.g. to the width of your mat or slightly wider, can give a greater sense of balance and strength to lift through the legs and to enable you flatten your lower back more.
So focus on lengthening the back rather than getting the heels to the floor – your legs will begin to straighten and your heels get closer to the floor through regular practice.
How my experience has changed
Once the penny had finally dropped for me to focus on straightening my back instead of struggling and focusing on straightening my legs in this posture, my experience of the posture transformed.
Physically I’ve developed much more movement in my thoracic area and in lifting my hips higher – in turn this has actually helped me to straighten my legs more through repeated practice.
This has enabled me to feel much more comfortable in the posture allowing me to bring my awareness to the energetics of the pose.
For me this manifests in a feeling of opening in the chest area – and the heart centre – and a sense of strength and liberation.
How do you get on with Downward Facing Dog?
Stella Tomlinson teaches Dru yoga in Southampton, UK. Dru yoga is a flowing and therapeutic style of yoga, characterised by graceful movements, directed breathing, relaxation techniques and working with affirmations and visualisations. Connect with Stella via Facebook and Twitter.