All this month we are doing Baptiste Yoga Every Damn Day (or BYEDD for short). Today’s pose is Downward Facing Dog. This pose is considered a resting pose, but if you are a beginner to yoga or physical activity, it can feel very much the opposite of rest. Yogis talk a lot about some of the esoteric health benefits of inversions like Downdog. If you are more of a fan of concrete facts, there is actual evidence that being upside down can have some health benefits. When upside down, gravity allows blood to flow quickly to the heart and the internal organs, and helps drain lymph fluid from lower extremities. This can mean less congestion and more circulation.
There is a lot going on in this pose. Most people either have too short of a stance or are trying to stretch out the entire length of their mat. The easiest way to tell what length your Downdog should be is to start on hands and knees, and simply lift the hips and straighten the legs. Speaking of straightening your legs, they may not be completely straight if you have tight hamstrings, and this is fine. Maintain curvature in the lumbar spine by pointing the tailbone toward the ceiling. Some people bring their feet closer to their hands in order to get their feet flat on the mat, but this can cause rounding of the spine.
Make sure you press into the mat with the entire palm and fingers are spread wide. Imagine you have glued your first two knuckles to the mat. The action of pressing your hands into the mat will take some weight out of the wrists and assist with shoulder alignment.
If you’ve been to a vinyasa style class, you might have heard your teacher call Downdog, “a resting pose.” When I began yoga, this pose would make my shoulders burn and my whole body would shake. It was not restful for me. I spent many classes grunting, gasping, and contorting my face just to be able to squeeze out a few more seconds. After time I found that the problem wasn’t the physical sensations I had in this pose. I was having a hard time with the narrative I had going in my head about my body in this pose. I was supposed to be resting, and here I was very much struggling. I must have failed. I must be weak. I must hold in this pose until I get strong or I never will be able to rest. Most people can accept the reality that one must work muscles to make them stronger, and stronger muscles can make it easier to hold up one’s body weight. Overtime I could physically hold the pose for much longer, but that same story remained. I was upside down, and all I could think about was the moment in which I got to leave the pose. To rest is to be at ease with the body. If this is physically uncomfortable for you to hold, come to Child’s pose and be at ease. This task may be physically easy for you, but if the mind starts telling you to get out, bolt, or do something else simply focus on the breath and be at ease. You might even be laying on the ground in the fetal position, but the mind can be swirling with all of these thoughts about your abilities, your lack of fortitude, your weaknesses, and you just keep breathing and just be at ease. The thoughts will come up again, and it could happen 10, 20, or 1000 times. You just keep coming back. Keep breathing. Keep resting.