Monday, January 26, 2009

Variations on an Up Dog

Jen asked about the engaging the lower body and Anne-Marie asked about the arms. I did some research which was completely inconclusive (what did I expect), but here's what I found:

From the waist down, the body should be completely engaged, especially when first entering the pose. Light on Yoga sez tighten the legs; other sources say avoid tensing. The work of the legs is partially what makes it a dog pose (i.e. lengthening the backs of the thighs and calves), but I also think it's important to keep the legs and buttocks working to stabilize the lower back. My impression is that the important action of the pose is pressing into the hands and opening the chest while keeping the shoulders down...more than getting a deep arch in the lower back. I always do Up Dog with my toes curled under, but I see many pictures in the online resources with the tops of the feet pressed to the floor. Not sure that matters--but let me know what y'all think.

I don't see the issue of elbow placement addressed much, altho most pictures show the inner crease moderately or completely rolled forwards. I wish I could remember where I read the suggestion to have the the creases face each other to protect the wrists, because it really does prevent you from locking your elbows and more deeply engages the pectorals. However, if it is painful to do it this way, by all means, adjust.

Any other thoughts about all of this?


Linda-Sama said...

and the way we do Up Dog at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram is totally different from American yoga. sort of like your pic of Iyengar but with the toes curled under, more curve in the lumbar spine.

as a student of Paul Grilley, you know I won't buy into what "should" be done.

Jen said...

I hadn't been thinking much about how the legs provide support here. So I tried extending from the inner thigh to the inner ankles. I also had my students try this and we all enjoyed it. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hey Brenda!

I hear you on the inconclusive research. I have been trying to find out about hip and leg position in Vira 2 and same thing, even among my favourit and trusted sources!
I practice up dog in both ways - toes curled under and pointed. I learned the cirled under way at KYM, too. I find that on days when I am connected to pada bandha and mula bandha, pointy toes work, but on days when I can't engage my bandhas or legs that well, or my chest is a bit tight, then I curl my toes under. It's much more stable.
I like inner elbows facing, too! But I guess the really important thing is that the structures closest to the spine are comfortable. So, whatever elbow placement works in a particular body to facilitate nice open shoulders!
I love these 'break it down' posts you do!

Kristin said...

Interesting post!

I think it all depends on which up-dog you are doing. And it all depends on whether up dog is being done as part of a sun salutation or as a separate posture.

In the ashtanga tradition, we are on the tops of our feet with four points of contact - hands and feet.

In the variation of the Iyengar tradition I learned either was fine, but I found toes curled under to be more comfortable.

In the hatha tradition I learned tops of toes - but legs are on the ground with mindful extension.

I was also taught to "lengthen the tailbone", which I *think* means that I should be moving my tailbone toward my feet rather than pooching it up toward my lower back. Thighs engaged and rotating inward.

As for wrists/arms - in the ashtanga tradition, wrists are directly under the shoulders while we lift through the ribcage and sternum. I have my students check for hyperextension of elbows to protect the joints, but I'm not sure that is standard practice.

And I was taught/read that in the hatha/Iyengar tradition, arms are at an angle to the shoulders.

And, I just went to an adjustment workshop where the instructor recommended the student keep the head in line with the spine and not drop it back as the tendency is to crunch the back of the neck.

Hmm. That was clear as mud...

Brenda P. said...

Thank you all for your thoughts. This is making think about other poses that are demonstrated in a variety of ways...I'm going to ponder and write about it next.

I wonder why so much differentiation in toes--easier to flow through? easier to hold for awhile? This position of feet is usually so important to the overall execution of a pose, it seems weird there is this much variation.

I mean, as far as Down Dog goes, the legs and feet are pretty much what they are--with maybe a bit of difference in the distance to the hands or the turn in of the toes. Why is Up Dog so different?

I dunno.

PetalsYoga said...

Hi Brenda,

Thanks for visiting my blog. I am loving the mindfulness class now and felt better almost immediately after posting my frustration. Silly huh?

Thanks for this great site. You are a wonderful resource.

Happy Saturday,


Eco Yogini said...

Wow- these comments and post are super interesting! I like how Kristin broke it down- and as a student who has explored different classes and styles I have come to understand that each style of yoga has different ways/names of doing the poses. My take is these variations are examples of how yoga has been fluid and influenced by all the Gurus and Yogis over the past hundred years.
Sometimes we get caught up in a certain style as being the 'best' way instead of listening to our bodies.

Anne-Marie said...

I simply can't do the elbow thing the way you've suggested, Brenda, so I have to do it with the creases facing forwards. It's either that or not do the pose at all!

I'm hardly the voice of authority, being a baby yogini and all, but for me it feels wrong if my shoulders and wrists aren't in alignment.

As for the toes ... if I'm doing the pose in isolation I have the tops of my toes on the ground. As part of a sequence I have the toes curled under.

And as point of interest, I've been watching my dogs and they actually do both downward and upward facing dog on a regular basis. One of them in particular favours upward dog for stretching her back legs. She doesn't seem too bothered about the placement of her toes or her elbow creases ...

Brenda P. said...

A-M, tell ya what. On Monday I will haul out the tripod and take a few up dog pics. Not that I am the be all, end all for up dog, but I wonder if a photo may be a better place to start the conversation.

Like Linda sez, tho, if this version doesn't work for you it doesn't work and the problem is with the pose not your elbows. Let's see...