The natural world played a significant role in ancient rites and ceremonies, and yogis drew inspiration from it. Nearly all mythological characters have a connection to at least one animal. Hence, it should come as no surprise that many yoga positions are influenced by wildlife, flora, and fauna.
In the book “Beyond Asanas: The Myths and Legends behind Yogic Postures”, Author Pragya Bhatt connects contemporary yoga practice with ancient Indian mythology and nature using 30 asanas. She explores the origins of the names for asanas, which were derived from animals, nature, and even sages.
“Yoga philosophy postulates an interconnection between living things. All living things are considered equal and we see them all play important roles in mythology,” she writes in the book.
The earliest yogis viewed all life as equal. If there are stances with names after sages, there are poses with names after animals as well.
One such pose is Adho Mukha Svanasana, the downward dog (adho` = below; “muka” = face. `Svana` = dog; “asana” = pose), which is also one of yoga’s most widely recognized poses.
A dog was seen by Yogis extending its spine leisurely while maintaining body awareness. Yogis chose to imitate a dog’s organic motions because they were interested in the potential advantages that people might experience from this movement.
In Indian stories, dogs are frequently mentioned. According to one legend, a group of cowherds once requested assistance from Lord Indra as their livestock had all vanished. They believed that someone had stolen their livestock, robbing them of their source of income. Lord Indra, who is known for aiding others, decided to send the best of his expert soldiers to aid them in obtaining the animals, but to no avail. Even sending the bird Suparna to search for the livestock was unsuccessful. Finally, Lord Indra got the help of Sarama, a dog with keen hearing and smelling senses. After several hours of searching in the bush, she discovered the cow hiding in a cave. The cowherds received their livestock back, and Lord Indra lavished praise on Sarama.
Yoga poses are more than just physical. While performing Adho Mukha Svanasana, we should medidate upon the qualities of being Dogman’s best friend. Symbolically, the dog represents qualities like loyalty, unconditional love, and companionship. A yoga practice can be encouraged to meditate on these qualities and reflect on the strength and courage of a dog.