We all have our favorite poses. And then there is the pose we h— (ahem) find very challenging.
The pose that I dread is Down Dog: Adhomukha Svanasna. Every single time my teacher tells us to go into downward dog, I cringe. So why is this such a struggle?
My hamstrings are tight so my knees are difficult to straighten. My heels are so far off the floor I could be wearing a pair of stilettos. My body weight is shifted to my arms since I can’t get my heels on the floor which makes my arms shake and my wrists hurt. With all of this combined, my back rounds into an arch, so instead of resembling the upside down “V” that I am supposed to be doing I look more like the small letter “N.”
Yet, I have been told that the pose we find the hardest is the one we need the most. The benefits are not only a great full body stretch of the back, hamstrings, calves, shoulders, arms and hands but is said to aid in relieving depression and stress. It eases digestion, soothes headaches, prevents and alleviates sciatica, and quiets menstrual cramps.
It seems like a pose I need to be on friendlier terms with, then.
How I deal with Down Dog:
1) I get my hands up on a brick. By placing a brick under each hand, the pressure is decreased off your hamstrings and forces some of the weight onto your lower body. If the bricks aren’t enough, you can place your hands on a chair. Another option is to place your heels against a wall. This keeps me stable and gives a place for my heels to rest.
2) I stretch out my calves first. I have extremely tight Achilles tendons. They are so tight in fact, that when I was a child a doctor wanted to perform surgery and cut a muscle in the back of my leg. My mom didn’t really want to put me through surgery and asked for a second opinion. The other doctor suggested she sign me up for ballet which she did. While I may have gotten more flexible then, my muscles have returned to their constricted spots.
I find if I stretch out a little before I go to yoga, my heels fall slightly closer to the floor and make the whole pose a little bit easier.
3) I place my hands on a towel or slant board prop. At the studio I attend, there are a plethora of props to choose from to assist us in our poses. One of these props is a piece of wood that measures 1-3/8 by 4-1/4 x 24 inches long and is rounded on the top. It raises your wrists off the ground which eases the pressure. Another option is to place it under your heels.
4) I don’t stay in it very long. While I like to push my self a little bit, I find the longer I stay in a pose that I am struggling so hard with that my arms are shaking, the worse the pose gets. I’ve heard my teacher say it many times before: Don’t stay in a bad pose. If I need to come out, I do. This isn’t a competition (although we may feel like it is sometimes). Gradually increasing time is best.
5) I practice (sometimes). Okay, I really do h— (ahem) find this pose challenging. I dread practicing it. But yoga is not just about being more flexible, is it now? Yoga starts out by stretching our muscles, but it also broadens our minds. It throws the things in our faces that we don’t want to deal with and says Guess what? Deal with me. So part of this is practicing the poses we don’t like. So I practice. And in my practice I learn that the challenges we don’t want to face are sometimes the challenges that will make us stronger in the long run.
Do any of these tips make me enjoy this pose anymore? No, they do not.
Maybe I will never enjoy downward facing dog. Maybe every time I go to yoga and my teacher calls out Adhomukha Svanasna I will cringe inside. Maybe my heels will never feel the cool floor of the yoga studio. But what I have found is that while there is joy in success, there is also joy in the journey.
And we all have to start somewhere.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo credit: US Air Force/Flickr Creative Commons