Tutorial: teaching an old (downward) dog new tricks

Teachers can get stuck in how they explain yoga postures and students can get stuck in patterns of holding. Yoga is like learning a new language (uhh, sometimes it is… sanskrit!) and it make take years to translate from mind to body.

Teachers have the opportunity to examine how they are using language and presenting postures… it’s up to them to notice if students are getting “lost in translation”

forearm downward facing dog *great modification if you suffer from wrist pain

forearm downward facing dog *great modification if you suffer from wrist pain

Arguable, downward facing dog, or Adho Mukha Svanasana (pronounced: AH-doh MOO-kah shvah-NAHS-anna) is one of the most practiced and taught asanas (i.e. yoga pose) in yoga studios around the world… thus, likely, one of the most misunderstood. Here are a few tips to try next time you find yourself in an inverted “V”.

Stabilize the shoulder: externally rotating the upper arms in relationship to the shoulder joints while pronating the wrists to root the hands solidly on the ground. External rotation of the upper arms allow the back to extends. The lats, traps, erector spinae and intercostal muscles awaken and elevate towards the hips and tailbone.

Establish your roots: contacting the quadriceps and lengthening the hamstrings lift the knees upward and move the femur heads (top of thighbones) back. This helps root the feet/heels down, allowing the lower back, sacrum and gluteus muscles to extend.

Balance ‘effort’ and ‘ease’: lightness and freedom of downward dog comes from strong grounding from the legs into the feet.

When yoga students are “lost in translation”, this can result in compression, forced movement, overextension and possible injury! Keeping in mind these slight adjustments will help you (and/or your students!) move towards a downward dog with a sense of groundedness and lightness. much love.

Adapted from: Shelley Piser for Yoga Dork

staying grounded

during a yoga class you often (too often?) hear the word “grounded“… but what does it really mean?

literally, “grounded” refers to our body making connection with the earth; whether it be the 3-points of our feet (baby toe mound, big toe mound and heel), planting the base of our thumb and index finger in an arm balancing posture, or feeling our entire back-body supported during savasana or relaxation posture.

focus on letting parts of your body relax that make connection to the earth and fell the heaviness of gravity, this helps you to feel “grounded“. And since you were focusing on physical sensation of your body making contact with the earth, the energy of your mind got a bit of a rest too.

grounding not only helps us relax but can reenergize us too. Imagine the hardness of the floor which you are standing on firmly with your feet. Picture how it is supporting you and even pushes back. “Ground reaction forces” is the shock you feel in your joints, the rebound of the ground against your action (ask a runner!).

Grounding” helps us connect to the earth and feel connected (psychologically) to something much larger than ourselves. This helps us remember we are not isolated, but connected to others, and puts our problems in the context of this expansive ecosystem. If we think of our energy moving downwards (as in birth or digestion) it allows us to focus on visualizing an idea (third eye), vocalizing it (throat), creating relationships (heart), centering ourselves (solar plexus) and ultimately liberating the energy necessary to make things happen in the physical world (see teachings of Amanda Zapanta).

Picture a tree

… just like it, we grow both upwards and downwards. You can visualize this by thinking of the sciatic nerve as tree roots that branch down from the spine into the lower legs and heel, awakening the hips and legs. These strong healthy roots are important. As well, using the grounding reaction forces to lengthen our spine and reach up toward the sky with the crown of our heads.

So especially with the changing of the seasons, take some time to feel grounded, strong and secure in your legs and hips. Feel the earth support you and connect to the energy moving downward to your roots. Much love.

(adapted from Staying Grounded by Erica Heinz, Huffington Post, Feb 2011)