Downward Facing Dog is a posture many people have heard of even if they don’t practice physical yoga – and you’ve likely found yourself here many, many times if you practice vinyasa-style classes.
When we’re just starting out, this ‘resting pose’ may seem anything but restful…. However over time it becomes a comfortable and familiar place to come back to time and time again.
The traditional downward facing dog is beneficial on so many levels as it works to lengthen the whole body – including the muscles of the back and the hamstrings – while also building strength in the arms, shoulders and hands. As the head is lower than the heart, you’re also in a mild inversion, which boosts circulation and aids in keeping the lymphatic system efficient and healthy.
Adding a variation and twist into this traditional asana not only gives us a new and less rigid perspective on our asana practice – yes we can change postures and find ways of moving that aren’t the ‘proper’ way…. – but it also helps to more deeply open the intercostal muscles and upper back, provides a little extra strength – building challenge for the supporting arm, and gives an extra circulatory boost as we combine twisting and inverting.
As I mentioned in last week’s practice post; the effects of twists are felt after we practice them…. Twists are extremely beneficial to the physical body, but they also offer us a way to release tension that may have been subconsciously stored up in the emotional body. As we twist and turn, there’s a chance to un-tie rigidity in our musculature and connective tissue, which often translates to a feeling of softness and spaciousness in the mind afterwards.
To prepare the body for Parivrtta Adho Mukha Svanasana:
Begin by sitting comfortably and lengthening the sides of the body by bringing the [left] hand down to the floor beside you and reaching the [right] arm up and over along side the ear. Repeat this a few times to each side of the body, using the inhale to create a little more space in the sides of the ribs.
From there, make your way onto all-fours and move through a few rounds of cat / cow to ease out any stiffness in the spine.
When the back feels a little more relaxed, practice ‘thread the needle’ to open up further into the upper back and introduce a twist into the spine.
From there, lower the hips back to the heels to rest in balasana, but make this a little more active by continuing to reach the fingertips forward to increase the length in the sides of the body.
After staying in balasana for a few breaths, slowly place the hands down and tuck the toes, extending finally into downward facing dog. Begin by keeping the knees a little bent and the spine long, then lengthen the legs away. Length in the spine is much more important than having straight legs here. Bending the legs alternately to gently lengthen into the hamstrings is always a good idea too, especially if you ever experience a sense of ‘pulling’ on the legs before or after your practice.
- Step the legs a little closer towards the hands than usual, unless your arms are long enough to easily each your legs from your usual position in Adho Mukha Svanasana.
- Keep pressing the [left] hand down into the mat, maintaining even weight distribution and ensuring you’re cultivating that sensation of pressing the floor away with the finger pads so the weight doesn’t fall into the wrist.
- Bring the [right] hand to hold onto the opposite leg, so you’re reaching through the arm and creating a slight twist. Wherever your arm reaches to isn’t important – aim for the ankle or calf, but make sure your body is happy with where you’re heading!
- The breath is of course such an important part of our practice, and there are so many ways to use it in a posture to change the way we experience it. Twists are especially potent when we start to use the breath in them. Although there may be a sense of creating less space in the body when we’re in the twist, if we continue to breathe fully and deeply, the result after we’ve practiced is a sense of openness and spaciousness in the body, and a ‘freeing of the breath’.
- Breathe into the side of the body you’re opening into in this variation of downward facing dog, as this can help to further expand the ribs, intercostal muscles and tissue around the lungs and side of the body.
- Keep drawing upon the leg to bring yourself into the twist, and take the gaze underneath the [left] armpit if it’s comfortable for your neck.
- Continue to use the breath to deepen the posture, with the exhale initiating the twist.
- Stay here for 5-10 breaths, or however long feels good to you.
- To transition out, replace the [right] hand back in-line with the left into adho mukha Svanasana, and notice the effects of the posture before practicing on the other side.
Twisting and spiralling is a very natural and expressive way for the body to move, spirals can be found in nature, and even our bodily tissue is structured in a spiral-like way. (Click here for more on spirals and patterns determined by nature).
By incorporating twists into your daily practice, and by getting out of our rigid patterns of ‘front, back and side-to-side’ motion, we discover the infinite amount of ways the body likes to move….