What is the importance of Downward Facing Dog Pose as a beginner?

Adho Mukha Svanasana is the Sanskrit term for Downward Facing Dog pose (Ar-doh MOO-kah Shvan-AH-sa-nah).  In the beginners’ course it is learnt after the standing poses.  

Adho Mukha Svanasana is one of the quintessential asanas (poses/postures) in the Iyengar system of yoga and offers many benefits.  

When we are first introduced to the asana there are a multitude of unfamiliar elements to be experienced. Up until this point in the course we have been learning standing asanas.  So we now learn co-ordination between the limbs, in a partly inverted asana with hands and feet in contact with the floor. 

Secondly, we are partly inverted.  The head is down, which is something many of us don’t do very regularly or at least for any length of time.  Also, this makes us more introspective; it gives us the opportunity to study and to feel what we are doing without the stimulus and distraction of our surroundings; other students, the room, the teacher.  We are then encouraged and given the opportunity to ‘experience’ the asana.  Within the duration of the asana we can start to consider, for example, the strength of our arms to stay put and the openness required in the backs of our legs to hold the pose.  This downward position is also an entrance point to inversions where the head is lower than the heart.  As BKS Iyengar puts it: “as the trunk is lower in this asana …healthy blood is brought to this region …and invigorates the brain by relieving fatigue.” (Light on Yoga p.111). 

Thirdly, given the position of the head we are now able to study and see for ourselves the alignment and correct position of the body parts in the asana.  We can use our eyes to ensure the precision, for example, of our hand placement, the stretch of the fingers and the contact with the mat. 

Then we are invited to begin to experience the inherent opposites of the asana: the arm/torso on one side of the apex and the legs on the other ‘side’.  There is a dynamic of 2 opposites in each direction.  There is strength, flexibility, extension and stability required.  But there is also the mental process of observing where we are and how we are, and being with that without judgement. 

This dynamic of 2 opposites is paramount in the understanding of Ha-tha Yoga (the practice of physical asanas). ‘Ha’ can involve the idea of the sun and ‘Tha’ the moon.  The opposites – hot and cold, male and female, strength and passivity, etc.  Or more precisely we are learning to find the balance between seemingly dualistic aspects of body and mind, and to understand that these polarities are a natural part of life and are in constant flux. 

An experienced Iyengar yoga student will tell you their Adho Mukha Svanasana is never exactly the same; it is constantly evolving, we are constantly learning about the asana, and about oneself.  

See you on the mat 🙂

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