My favourite asana is a pose you almost definitely do going into any yoga class – Adho Mukha Svanasana, also known as the downward facing dog (DWD). It looks like such a deceivingly simple pose but doing it right involves being aware of and engaging so many different parts of the body – your biceps, triceps, quads, abs, hip flexors – basically just holding it for a good half an hour could give you a full body workout.
I always thought I had some form of mastery over this pose before coming into YTT – my heels could reach the floor, I felt some sense of ease in the pose and this is probably my most practiced asana given that I mostly go for vinyasa classes, I can’t not be good in it right? Turns out it couldn’t be further away from the truth. Just a few minutes into holding the asana on the first session of YTT, my shoulders and arms were screaming and a hunch slowly was creeping into the upper part of my back. Because I had so much weight on my arms, my wrists were starting to hurt and I couldn’t help but drop my knees down a few times and then by sheer grit get back into my already out of form DWD just to persevere through. What was I doing wrong?
Turns out that in the DWD position, there should be more weight in the legs than in the arms. This makes sense given that our legs are the ones supporting our body weight; we don’t see people walking around on their hands right. So the key was the shifting of the weight placement to the legs. This entails engaging the core to push the hips up and back, engaging the quadriceps which lifts the kneecaps and finally engaging the hip flexors in order to truly ground and put weight on the feet. But how to engage the hip flexors?! This was something that befuddled me and took a while to discover. I never knew that the muscles at the hip joints played such an important role not only in the DWD but in other asanas like Uttanasa and other extended leg seated postures. Discovering my lack of awareness and engagement of the hip flexors in the DWD and working at gaining control over the muscles in this severely underused part of the body vastly improved the practice of not only my DWD but many other asanas as well. For that, I have the DWD to thank!
Since then, the DWD has become one of my favourite asanas in my practice. Coming back to it is like returning to home base, bringing with it a deep sense of comfort and familiarity. From there, paddling out my legs right and left, I re-calibrate the body, feeling the gentle stretch in my calves and hamstrings. Finally as I straighten out my knees and ground the heels I come into stillness, a calming stillness, a present stillness. This is the DWD, my favourite asana.