Yoga Day Twenty-Five – Upward Facing Dog

Last night (day twenty-five), I started a new commitment to “yoga cross-training” as Christina Sells describes in her own practice.  Even as a very newly minted yoga practitioner (Yoganista?), I have a sense of what my usual or typical or perhaps most comfortable practice looks like, which is a combination of Anusara/Anusara-inspired attention to alignment and form, with some vinyasa flow (or movement from pose to pose).  I like to figure out the calculus of a pose, how I can best approach it, how I might need to modify it, before getting into a pose and then I like to open my heart and relax in it.

For example, when I do warrior I, here’s what I like.  I pull my right foot forward as much as I can (haven’t come close to mastering the graceful pendulum from a three legged dog into a bent knee.  I stretch my left leg out and check my feet.  Then I like to check my hips, make sure they are squared and that I am pushing my right knee forward and pulling my left knee back.  Sometimes, ala Rox perhaps my most steady instructor, I’ll stick my tush out and kind of Elvis it around to make sure I have my belly pulled in, my bandas locked (essentially all of my core tensed), my tail tucked, and everything is strong.  I continue that pull up through my stomach and then, finally, I pull my shoulders together and arms by my ears.  Once I am sure everything is where it’s supposed to be, THEN I melt my heart open and get all Nadia-like with my arms, pushing and pulling and melting.

Which can be way awesome, except this takes some effort still, so it slows my down if its in the middle of a flow, which is to say a choreography or sequence of one pose into another so that five poses string their beginnings and ends together like writing vinyasa in cursive.  Some poses, like chaturanga, are much harder in a flow than in a pose class (hence the knees).  Others, like upward facing dog (or open that back and pin those shoulders together cobra) are better in a flow.  Maybe not easier, but the stretch is much more intense.

In my usual practice, a sun salutation pose goes from the completion of a standing sun salutations, into a pose (like warrior I) to windmill my hands to the mat and stretch forward into plank on an inhale, drop to chaturanga on an exhale, up to cobra (bent arms, legs on mat) or upward facing dog (straight arms, legs off the mat) on an inhale, back to downward facing dog on an exhale, hold for a few breaths.

But last night in this class that combined long holds for strength with some very, very slow flow, we pivoted between downward facing dog and upward facing dog so slowly, moving forward to upward facing dog on a count of four (which for me is probably 2 inhales and 2 exhales) with only my hands and the tops of my feet touching and back to downward facing dog on a count of four.

It was extremely challenging because it wasn’t a hold or a flow I was used to. My mat was covered in sweat, but it was such a pretty way to practice and such a physical challenge that really combined what I like most in my two styles of practice.  And that upward facing dog was amazing.  My back and core feel light, free and toned today (my shoulders are sprouting wings, but that’s another story).  I’m excited to see what all the things I learned in this class bring to my home practice.

Cross training is a very good thing.



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