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Downward Facing Mutt

Cute pup demonstrating downward-facing dog pose. Photo © ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/dogulove/##dogulove##

This summer I’ve been dabbling here and there with Bikram yoga. It’s a style of yoga where you practice the same set series of poses in a super hot, humid room. Optionally, the instructor can berate you the whole time about how much your yoga sucks, or how you’re super lame for attempting to quaff a mouthful from your water bottle at the totally worst time ever during the class (which is pretty much anytime except after the first breathing series, or before the midway or final resting postures). The only thing I knew about Bikram yoga before taking my first class was that the founder, a guy named Bikram (surprise!), had copyrighted his series of ancient yoga postures and was suing his ex-students who left to open their own yoga practices.

After hearing glowing reviews from a runner friend and a coworker, I figured you could try anything at least once.

To my chagrin, I actually really enjoyed it!

It seems a lot harder than it actually is because of the heated room. The same series practiced at normal room temperature probably wouldn’t raise your heart rate much, if at all. However, what the heat does do is accelerate your progress by externally warming muscles that, in other yoga practices, you have to warm yourself. After something like two weeks of regular practice (e.g. attending class almost every day) I could actually touch my toes in a seated forward bend! For the first time in my entire back-of-the-yoga-class, inflexible existence. Also, losing a few liters of sweat over 90 minutes gives you a deliciously loopy feeling that’s probably as close as I’ll ever come to getting high.

The problem with it, though, is that there isn’t a single downward facing dog in the entire sequence. Bikram-only yogis I’ve spoken to have given me completely blank stares when I mention any sort of dog pose. And I mention it a lot, because down dog is the yoga pose for the over-used clickin’ arm.

Humans demonstrating down dog. Photo © ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/lululemonathletica##Lululemon Athletica##

Don’t know the keyboard shortcuts in Flash or Photoshop? Spend all day clicking between Cheezburger sites? Button-mashing some click-n-slash dungeon game? Using a mini laptop mouse instead of a real mouse? Non-ergonomic desk setup?

Such practices lead to your hand being semi-permanently cupped in the shape of your computer mouse, with a huge freaking knot in your back where said clickin’ arm meets your clickin’ shoulder.

A properly executed downward dog, while it kills the bejeesus out of your weak, digitized wrists, is ultimately the best rehabilitation for said malady.

One of my all-time favorite flavors of yoga is ashtanga yoga, for that very reason. Like Bikram, it’s a single series of postures practiced every class. Unlike Bikram, it’s room temperature and very difficult for a wussy girl-type programmer like yours truly with zero upper body strength. Every posture is punctuated by a sun salutation, which is basically a downward facing dog pose mixed with what some people refer to as a yoga pushup. So it’s like an hour and a half of down dogs and pushups.

A few weeks of that and your clickin’ arm will feel like it’s been melted down and recast from scratch.

But no matter how important it is to master basics, no matter how comforting it is to practice a known and loved series day in and day out, there’s a little bit of magic missing when you’re restricting your yoga diet to 26-30 poses.

That’s why I love me some mutt yoga.

LOLkittehz demonstrating cat pose and cow pose.

Mutts make the best pets, and they make the best yoga practices. You’ll see the classes listed as “hatha” or “vinyasa,” or sometimes “Power Yoga” (which usually downward-dogs the hell out of you like ashtanga, but with a different mix of postures between the sun salutations).

I went to a vinyasa class at my favorite Reno yoga studio, Yoga Loka, last night for the first time in years. After chatting amiably for a few minutes while waiting for stragglers to arrive, the instructor asked, “Any requests?”

What a concept! After a summer of Bikram and fresh memories of ashtanga classes in San Francisco several years back, I was taken by surprise with the novelty of creating a yoga practice on the fly based on how you’re feeling that day. After a few comments from students, we ended up with a challenging (for me) but relaxing class filled with twists and — yes — down dogs. The cherry on top at the end was a quick intro to an advanced balancing pose called crow pose. Nobody criticized my unimpressive yoga prowess, and I left feeling relaxed and rejuvenated after an otherwise stressful day of programming ActionScript 3 and monitoring blogodrama via RSS and Twitter. (Yes, internet drama makes me incredibly anxious.)

I could get used to doing this more often. Though I think I might need a new yoga mat. I didn’t realize how much mine has started to reek of the gallons of anonymous sweat spilled on the Bikram studio carpets mixed with whatever they use to clean said carpets. Grody.

4 thoughts on “Downward Facing Mutt

  1. Ah, downward dog! I MISS down dog. THe physical therapist has assured me that I will be able to do downward dogs again in about a year….but I will never again be able to do head to knee pose (too much risk of hip dislocation).

    There really is nothing like the dog to relieve calf/back of thigh tightness from lots of walking and shoulder tightness all at once. It’s the baking soda of yoga — does everything.

    I’ve never tried Bikram — the classes are all too expensive. I did used to go to Gentle Yoga classes, which focus on relaxing into poses and not straining anything. Those were really nice — as were the teachers and fellow students. But until I am past the 3-month maximum danger period for going past a 90degree angle and have the OK from PT, I remain stuck with basic standing stretches. (Try feed your cat or picking something up off the floor without going past 90deg…just not possible)

    At least for now, I leave the yoga to the kittehsand spend a lot of time in corpse pose….preferably in the company of fully stretched kittehs…

    1. Corpse + kitteh pose is the best ever!

      If you’re looking for less expensive yoga classes, most studios have one or two “community” classes per week, with a highly discounted drop-in rate. At some studios, it gets super crowded and you’ll want to arrive early to get prime mat space, but the community class I went to last night was only about half a dozen students to the one instructor.

      Of course, they’re not guaranteed to be gentle yoga, but you could always ask the instructor for alternatives to poses you’re not allowed to do.

  2. I love me some mutt yoga too! The more vinyasas (ie pushup, up dog, down dog transitions) the better. You should come to my class at Yoga Loka tonight – it will be a nice strong flow with lots of standing poses, and (of course) as many chatarangas and down dogs as I can throw in 😉

    who did you practice with at Yoga Loka?

    1. It was with Jen Schaeffer. Your Tuesday class is at a great time for me — if I can get out of the office early enough to run home and pick up my yoga clothes I will come! Otherwise I might have to wait until next week, and put my yoga stuff in the car so I can leave straight from the office.

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