Another pose named after the esteemed canine. Downward facing dog, adho mukha shvanasana (pronounced AH-doh MOO-kah shvah-NAH-sah-nah), brings heat to your body, strengthens and stretches your spine, and gives your heart a rest.
This is one of the better known yoga poses—maybe because it feels so great to do it! Downward facing dog is easily adjustable for any flexibility level. You can reach down to the floor, or even to the seat of a firmly anchored chair, if you can't quite make it all the way down. Or if you are very flexible, you can press all the way down to the floor with your palms and your heels while pushing your hips up. Ahh, doesn't that feel great?
If you have trouble with this pose because of tight hamstrings, spend extra yoga time on sitting forward bends to loosen the back of your legs. If downward facing dog hurts your wrists, you may not be balancing your weight evenly. Try to shift weight back into your heels. Hold the pose only as long as you are comfortable. Little by little, your balance will shift, and this pose will eventually become quite soothing.
It may also help to concentrate on stretching out your lower back. Instead of rounding it, lengthen it. Remember the way your back is stretched out in the child's pose? Think about lifting your tailbone to the sky. If necessary, keep your knees slightly bent to return a natural curve to your lower back. When you are flexible and strong enough to perform the downward facing dog fully and peacefully, you will place as much weight in your heels as you do in your hands. To get this feeling of the full pose, have a partner lift your hips up and shift your weight back to center, just as we show in the following illustration.
If your back is sore or tight, definitely keep your knees bent. Focus on spine lengthening, not on your heels coming down.
The downward facing dog pose.
1. Get down on your hands and knees. Lift your tailbone up, bringing your knees off the floor so your body forms an upside-down V, with your palms and the balls of your feet touching the floor.
2. Bring your head down and your hips up. Keep your knees bent at first, then slowly bring your heels to the floor and straighten your legs. Breathe and hold for as long as it feels good.
Feeling worn out yet? The next chapter will give you a chance to let your body really relax so all that work can take effect. The corpse pose is, paradoxically, the easiest and most challenging yoga pose of all. Read on to learn more, and prepare to get really, really relaxed.
^ Forward-bending postures—such as standing head to knees, feet apart side angle, sitting one leg, bound half lotus, yoga mudra, boat, half boat, tortoise, and downward facing dog—help you to internalize and quiet your mind.
^ Forward bends are great for loosening the lower back and stretching out the hamstrings.
^ Forward bends and backbends balance each other and should be practiced together.
Dead to the World
In This Chapter
^ Why the corpse pose is so-named, and why it's the most important of all the poses
^ How to relax and stop thinking ^ Finding peace at last!
Of all the yoga poses, shavasana (pronounced shah-VAH-sah-nah), also known as the corpse pose, is the most important. Shava means "corpse," and just as it sounds, the corpse pose consists of lying on the floor in complete relaxation, still, peaceful, and corpse-like. "How can lying on the floor be important?" you might ask. Or better yet, "How can imitating a corpse be important?"
Both good questions! Here's a good answer: The essence of peace comes from within, not from without. Shavasana's goal is to relax the body so completely that the body becomes irrelevant, as if it were deceased. With the body "gone," the mind is set free to blossom.
"But a corpse is dead!" you might continue to argue. "Isn't yoga about life?" Yes! But life and death are inseparable—they are all part of a bigger reality. By learning the corpse pose, you learn to live. By focusing inward, which means focusing beyond the body, the ego, and the superficial trappings of the "you" who walks around every day (clothes, habits, personality), you'll ultimately connect with the beauty of the universe. The surface "you" can finally fall away, and the inner "you," the Real You, can emerge. Imagine the resounding cosmic question: Will the Real You please stand up? If you've mastered shavasana, you'll know just who the Real You is! As your body lies corpse-like, the Real You can stand.
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