Friday, September 08, 2006

LEARNING TO LOVE THE DOG

After class last week, a couple of my students were discussing how much trouble they had with Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) and decided that they just didn’t have the upper body strength for the pose. This is a common problem for people with stiff shoulders or upper backs; the pose becomes a version of Plank Pose, because they can’t lengthen the upper torso and rotate their shoulders enough to get into the inverted V of Dog. All the weight of the upper body is on the arms and wrists, instead of being equally suspended between the legs and arms. This is a very strenuous position and, because of the strain, people stop breathing evenly and blood starts to rush to the head. Needless to say, this does not make for a very calming pose.

So, in honor of Madame Purl and Dan, I offer this sequence for shoulder opening. Be honest with yourself and don’t overdo any of the stretches or force your body out of alignment. The idea is to work on the rotation of your shoulders and find a place where you can feel the upper back working, while the spine is still lengthening. Even if you don’t have trouble with your Dog, this is a wonderful series to work any tension out of your upper torso and will help you stay in DFD even longer to get the maximum benefits of the inversion. Enjoy!

Shoulder Opening Sequence

Tadasana with Hastasana Arms (Mountain Pose with Overhead Arms) Extend the spine and side ribs as you stretch your palms towards the ceiling. Keep the neck long and the shoulders away from the ears. If you need to slightly bend the arms to stretch up, do so.

Extended legs with Gomukhasana (Cow’s Head Pose) Arms Step your feet apart as if for Triangle, and ground evenly thru the bottoms of the feet. Lift the side ribs, but keep the shoulders down. Twist lift the right arm overhead and bend the elbow while reaching up the back with the left hand; join hands or clasp either ends of a belt. Stretch the elbows away from each other, while gently pressing them to the center. Switch sides.

Parsvokonasana (Lateral Angle Pose) Do this combination Warrior 2 (legs)-Triangle (side stretch) Pose. Ground evenly thru the soles of the feet, but really focus on lengthening the side ribs as you stretch from wrist to ankle on each side.



Right Angle to the Wall Stretch Stand with the hands against the wall, even with the shoulders, and the step the feet back until your head, arms and side ribs are in a straight line. Press the finger tips to the wall as you stretch your sit bones back to lengthen the sides of the torso. To deepen the rotation of the shoulders, relax the upper back and let the head hang between the arms.**Is it just me, or do toddlers act just like cats when they get around a yoga mat?**

Vrksasana (Tree Pose) With the wall in reach (or against your back), move from Mountain in this balance pose (one knee bent, sole of that foot against the other leg). When you feel balanced, reach both arms overhead and repeat the stretch of Hastasana while keeping the shoulders down. Change sides.



Tripod Shoulder Opener Form a tripod with the elbows, sides of the arms and sides of the hands (fingers clasped or fingertips pressing together). Press the tripod to the wall at shoulder height and step back until you can hang your head between your hands. Feel the stretch around the shoulder blades and in the armpits.



Modified Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) Start on your hands and knees, with the heels just a few inches from the wall. As you come into Dog, keep your knees bent and let your heels rest again the wall. Make sure your arms are stretched out enough that you can really lengthen the back and side ribs. Don’t worry about straightening the legs. Try to keep the neck long and the shoulders away from the ears (same positioning as the Right Angle Stretch).

Balasana (Child’s Pose) Relax on the floor and concentrate on releasing thru the shoulders.

Full Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) Come away from the wall and do a complete Dog. Keep the knees bent and the heels off the floor if you need to—you are focusing on the work of the arms and shoulders this time. If you get the upper body in a comfortable, rotated place you can try lengthening the back of the legs, but only if you are comfortable.

Balasana (Child’s Pose) Again, come down to the support of the floor. If you want to roll over into Savasana (Corpse) for a more complete relaxation, go ahead and do so. ©Brenda K. Plakans. All Rights Reserved.

2 comments:

Julie said...

I started taking yoga last year and had a lot of trouble with Downward Facing Dog. I certainly carry all my tension in my neck and shoulders. This will really be helpful to me when class begins again in a few weeks.

Brenda Plakans said...

Good. DFD is my favorite pose, so I'm always trying to figure out ways for it to work for my students. I hope this helps...

P.S. I always end up hunching over circular knitting needles, so be careful with the Seaman Scarf! ;)