Downward-facing dog, down dog or downward dog. We all have at least heard of it, if we haven't been in it ourselves. It's a pose that requires the body to form an inverted V shape, with hands and arms extended forward on the mat, and legs extended backward. When this pose was first named, I began to wonder how "downward-facing dog" was chosen.
Canine psychology tells us the "play bow" is an invitation to have a bit of fun. The ASPCA describes it as your dog saying "anything that comes after this is play, so please don't take it seriously." If you've seen dogs do this, and who hasn't, you can not only see the invitation in the dogs' bodies, you can see it on their faces. Happy and calm but energized and ready to go.
Quite often, we take this pose in yoga class and feel any number of things. Maybe there is discomfort, strain or boredom. Perhaps anticipation, fidgetiness or impatience. When, if ever, do we extend an invitation to play?
Play means exploring, being a little daring, doing the things that bring us joy and camaraderie, things that ignite our spirit. Play lets us experience healthy stress. It gets our hearts beating, blood pumping, muscles warmed.
Invitation means we open up, we let go, we take a chance or two. We bring down some of our barriers and put our trust in something else, such as a teammate, a companion, the universe.
What happens when we invite ourselves to let go, enjoy the moment, reroute our thinking? We expand possibility. We understand the importance of fair play, timeouts and do-overs. We allow more of our authentic self to shine through exteriors that keep that light dimmed.
So next time you're on your mat in downward-facing dog, consider the canine approach and foster an environment of exploration. Then, after you roll up your mat, invite yourself to explore the world.
Oh, and bring a dog.
Diana Reed is a yoga teacher, writer and co-owner of House of Light Yoga in Hernando County. Contact her at houseoflightyoga.net or (352) 610-1083.