I was given a Dog Yoga calendar this year by my son’s girlfriend and I love it….dogs in yoga poses, what’s not to like? And some of you will know I have a thing about dogs and we have three gorgeous boys of our own. Two of them are rescues which is a highly recommended form of karma yoga. I love them to bits. And that theme (believe it or not!) runs through yoga. Dogs are revered in some parts of the East…and seen to be scavengers in others. Shiva, in one of his many manifestations, had four dogs (representing the Vedas, or ancient scriptures). And this wasn’t considered too cool but he was always known to be a bit controversial was our Shiva. In our asana practice, Adho Muhka Svanasana (‘Downward Dog’ to you and me) finds a place in almost every yoga class. Why? Well, as well as giving the whole of the back body a wonderful stretch (Love it! Love it! Love it!), the fingers, toes and soles of the feet are lengthened, the neck gets a gentle stretch through the weight of the head, the core is engaged gently to prevent the spine “dipping” and there are all of the benefits of going upside down. It’s a jam-packed pose! And dogs do do Downward Dog! Watch them having a good old stretch to see what I mean.
Urdhva Muhka Svanasana (Upward Dog) is challenging in other ways – it requires real strength in the arms, the ability to relax and retract the shoulders, the focus on opening the front of the body enables a gentle backbend and, depending on your variation, the tops of the feet and the front of the ankles are opened. Phew! There’s a lot going on in these two simple asana! But as a bit of fun let’s take that “dog” imagery more deeply into our practice. As well as the physical elements of dogs in asana, there’s the other stuff, the more esoteric imagery of the dog in yoga…..what on earth am I going on about??…read on……..
Dogs are Loyal…..Does your body blindly do what you ask of it without question or resistance? Your body generall serves you pretty well in life (if you take care of it and respect it, that is!) but now and again it might refuse to go along with what your mind wants. You can’t quite make it into that hip opener or, if you are like me, your spine just isn’t happy with deep backbends – a bit like a dog pulling on a lead! Some dogs just aren’t going to go where you want them to, are they?The yoga moral here is to understand why it is resisting and work within those constraints to be in a happy body/mind place. Really identify with your dog!
Dogs are highly instinctive….Do you listen to your body’s instincts? Hm, I know I don’t always. After Savasana I usually say “move in the way your body wants to right now” and I see people listening to their bodies and moving slowly, stretching, rocking, and that’s lovely….but do we pay much attention to what our bodes want to do the rest of the time? Your body knows what it wants, needs, likes. My body hates sitting still for long periods of time, for example. And in our office we have recently introduced standing desks and its been a revelation! I can move about, stretch, do press-ups whatever my body needs to keep from stiffening up……maybe we should listen to that inner wisdom a bit more.
Dogs are focussed…when my dogs get the scent of something it doesn’t matter how well trained they are (hmmm – jury is out on that one!!) or what else there is around them, they won’t be distracted from following that scent. Their minds are one-pointed and focussed and it isn’t easy to sidetrack them. And this is what we should be striving for in our meditation practice. “Chitta vritti nirodha” is Patanjali’s definition of yoga. It means that yoga is the removing of the fluctuations of the mind until it rests in a state of total and utter tranquility, being very much in the present moment, practicing mindfulness. Hard through that can sometimes be.
So, our bodies and minds are a bit like our canine friends….we can train them and shape them to be what we want them to be – but only if we dedicate time and committment, listen to our inner wisdom and hear what it is our bodies and minds need each time we step onto the mat. And if that all comes together we will be waggy tailed and just whooping with joy at our lives off the mat! Dog biscuits and a belly scratch are optional extras…..