Gettin’ Down(dog) in Baltimore

It’s not the first city on most people’s “must see in America” list, but Baltimore has a lot more to offer than whatever you’ve seen on The Wire.  No, it’s not all drug deals and corrupt cops up in here, despite the series’ realistic aesthetic and gritty dialogue (gotta love it).

Baltimore’s undergone a major evolution in the last ten years, and most of the city has a surprising charm, in architecture, quirkiness and down-to-earth vibe of the people.  Not to mention America’s biggest free art festival – Artscape!

Two of my dearest friends are currently calling this city their home, so it was a definitely a “must see” on my Friends and Family Tour list.  I spent the week visiting my host’s favorite munching spot and taking in some local Bikram (in the white-trash-funky Hapden) and Hatha (both of excellent quality, though the receptionist at Charm City Yoga was so uptight, I wondered how accurate the name of the studio really was . . . ).

In the featured image, we’re perusing the free art outside one of the many art schools in the city . . .

When I found this odd little dog statue, I couldn’t help but bust out in a downdog myself (I assure you, the postures in this article series become a lot less literal in future!).

Since I’m writing this article from my second go at a yoga teacher training, I’ll share with you a report on the posture I did in my first teacher training course in 2007 at The Yoga Connection in Tucson, Arizona.  It may be far too much detail for the non-yogi reader, so don’t say I didn’t warn you!

(AH-doh MOO-kah shvah-NAHS-anna)
adho = downward
mukha = face
svana = dog

A stabilizing inversion, downdog balances all 7 chakras and all 5 ayurvedic elements.
Preparatory Poses
  • Plank Pose
  • Uttanasana
Basic set-up
  1. Ask if anyone has migraines or high blood pressure; ask if anyone has wrist pain or carpal tunnel syndrome.
  2. Come onto the floor in Table Pose (on your hands and knees). Set your knees directly below your hips and your hands slightly forward of your shoulders; they should be about shoulder-width apart or wider.
  3. Stretch out as though you were going into child’s pose and pause before your tailbone touches your heels.  Feel that stretch from the palms of your hands, up your arms, down your back and to your tail bone.
  4. Now, back into table, spread your palms, index fingers parallel or slightly turned out, and turn your toes under.
  5. Draw the upper arm bones more deeply into the shoulder sockets and spread the shoulders apart as you press the lower arms toward each other.
  6. Curl the toes under and on the exhale, slowly lift your knees away from the floor. At first keep the knees slightly bent and the heels lifted away from the floor.
  7. Lengthen through the arms and spine, creating a straight line of energy from the wrists to the pelvis.  Press into the earth, engaging the hands.  You will feel your triceps contract, and a stretch in your latissimus dorsi.
  8. Firm the outer arms and press the bases of the index fingers actively into the floor. From these two points lift along your inner arms from the wrists to the tops of the shoulders.  Firm your shoulder blades against your back, then widen them and draw them toward the tailbone, creating space between your blades and your neck.
  9. Keep the head between the upper arms, or let it hang like a fruit, gaze toward your navel.
  10. Do a few small cat-cow sequences to find the perfect balance in your neutral back line.  If you have tight hamstrings, please keep your knees bent and your pelvis tilted slightly toward the navel.
  11. As necessary, start to “yoga walk” or “walk the dog,” knees bending with the breath.
  12. Lengthen your tailbone away from the back of your pelvis and press it lightly toward the pubis. Against this resistance, lift the sitting bones toard the ceiling, and from your inner ankles draw the inner legs up into the groins.  Really feel that lift of your sitting bones to the ceiling.  You should be feeling a deep extension and lengthening through your body’s V-shape.
  13. Breathe into the pose.
  14. Now, if you’d like to move into full extension of the pose, with an exhalation, push your top thighs back and stretch your heels onto or down toward the floor. Straighten your knees if you can, but be sure not to lock them. Firm the outer thighs and roll the upper thighs inward slightly. Narrow the front of the pelvis.
  15. You will be feeling a stretch in your hamstrings and the biceps femoris.
  16. If you like, activate the chakras at the balls of the feet by spreading the feet wide and drawing energy up from the earth.
  17. (With each inhalation, envision the pranic energy entering your Chandra chakra and spiraling down into your Vishuddha, Anahata, Manipura, Swadhistana and Muladhara chakras, pausing at the kriya center, then spiraling back up.)
  18. Allow any sound to emerge as the throat opens, releasing energy from the neck and head and relaxing the nervous system.
  19. Allow deep stillness to spread throughout the nervous system even as the body remains active, and know this place of balance and integration is a part of the process.
  20. At this point, you have three options.  Option one, if you are ready to release from the pose, please do so slowly and mindfully, dropping your knees to the ground and moving into child’s pose.  Option two, you may stay in the pose, breathing deep into all the corners of your body.  Option three, if you’d like more of a challenge, step your right foot closer to the center of the mat, in alignment with your head, and lift your left leg, engaging the gluts, keeping your hip square with the earth.  It doesn’t matter how high you get here, but feel the energy shooting out of your body from your tailbone, energizing your gluts, hamstrings and ankle, and shooting outward at the ball of your feet. When you are ready, slowly release the left leg (same on other side).
The pose is sometimes entered into from supine pose, and calls for the crown of the head to touch the earth.
Modifications & Props
  • Arm Prop: To get a feel for the work of the outer arms, loop and secure a strap around your arms just above your elbows. Imagine that the strap is tightening inward, pressing the outer arms in against the bones. Against this resistance, push the inner shoulder blades outward.
  • Shoulder Prep: If you have difficulty releasing and opening your shoulders in this pose, raise your hands off the floor on a pair of blocks or the seat of a metal folding chair.
  • Dolphin Variation: practice with the forearms on the floor, parallel to each other.
  • Eka Pada: To challenge yourself in this pose, inhale and raise your right leg parallel to the line of your torso, and hold for 30 seconds, keeping the hips level and pressing through the heel. Release with an exhalation and repeat on the left for the same length of time.
Variations
Deepen the Pose

To increase the stretch in the backs of your legs, lift slightly up onto the balls of your feet, pulling your heels a half-inch or so away from the floor. Then draw your inner groins deep into the pelvis, lifting actively from the inner heels. Finally, from the height of the groins, lengthen the heels back onto the floor, allowing the outer heels to touch the ground first, then the inner heels last.

Partnering/Adjustments
  • A partner can help you learn how to work the top thighs in this pose. First perform Adho Mukha Svanasana. Have your partner stand behind and loop a strap around your front groins (or they can use their hands), snuggling the strap into the crease between your top thighs and front pelvis. Your partner can pull on the strap parallel to the line of your spine (remind him/her to extend the arms fully, and keep the knees bent and chest lifted). Release the heads of your thigh bones deeper into your pelvis and lengthen your front torso away from the strap.
  • A partner may also stand in front of your back and press down (gently at first) onto the hips, ground your feet deeper into the earth.
  • For a more intimate adjustment, have your partner lie down onto your back.
Common Mistakes
  • Concentrating on straightening the legs too much
  • Not engaging back muscles
  • Wrenching of the neck
  • Rounded lumbar area
Benefits
a.      Physical
  • Stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches, and hands
  • Strengthens the arms and legs
  • Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause
  • Relieves menstrual discomfort when done with head supported
  • Helps prevent osteoporosis
  • Improves digestion
  • Relieves headache, insomnia, back pain, and fatigue
  • Therapeutic for high blood pressure, asthma, flat feet, sciatica, sinusitis
  • Calms the brain and nervous system
b.      Psychological
  • Helps relieve stress and mild depression
  • Creates integration and balance between the upper and lower body
c.       Spiritual
  • Energizes all seven chakras
Contraindications/Cautions
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome or any wrist/shoulder pain, start with modifications
  • Diarrhea
  • Pregnancy: Do not do this pose late-term.
  • High blood pressure or headache: Support your head on a bolster or block, ears level between the arms.
Subsequent Poses
  • Standing poses
  • Uttanasana
  • Headstand

References:

Yoga Journal (www.yogajournal.com)

Yoga Teachers’ Toolbox, Joseph and Lilian Le Page

Light on Yoga, BKS Iyengar

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