Do you remember your elementary schoolteachers telling your class to rest your heads on your desks? I do. Even though that was a long time ago now, I distinctly remember this as a strategy for giving rowdy kids a minute of calm. Yoga practitioners may not need a time out to quell our rowdiness. But resting our foreheads in poses such as Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) can help ease stress and calm our busy brains.
Head support in yoga poses is a great way to calm the nervous system. I use Yoga Blocks for head support in forward bends such as Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend), Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) and Upavista Konasana (Wide-Legged Forward Bend). When you sequence these poses toward the end of a practice, the head support can help you ease into Savasana (Relaxation Pose) more deeply. Same principle: resting your forehead can calm your mind.
Downward Facing Dog Pose: Old Pose, New Trick
Downward Facing Dog Pose is, in some ways, emblematic of yoga practice these days. Pretty much everybody, whether or not they practice yoga, knows what it looks like. Because of this, it’s often taken for granted. While it may look simple and basic, it’s actually quite complicated.
Adho Mukha Svanasana is simultaneously an inversion, an arm balance, and a forward bend. It opens your shoulders, strengthens your arms, lengthens your spine, stretches your legs, inverts your internal organs and nourishes your brain. It invigorates and calms. For dogs and cats, Dog Pose is the equivalent of a morning cuppa, a remedy that clears sleep-induced physical and mental cobwebs.
With the addition of a Yoga Bolster, you can make your Dog Pose a restorative pose. Supported Downward Facing Dog Pose is a great way to prepare your body for restorative practice. You can use the pose to both nourish and calm your brain in the middle of your work day. Or practice it before bed, to calm and ground your mind and stretch out muscle tension for a restful night’s sleep.
Practice with Care in Dog Pose
Ubiquitous as it is, Downward Facing Dog Pose is not for everyone. If you have any of these conditions, you should avoid practicing the pose:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Detached retina
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure
- Disc problems
- Recent eye surgery
How to Practice Supported Downward Facing Dog Pose
- Gather your props: a Yoga Mat, two Yoga Blocks and a Standard Yoga Bolster.
- Place your bolster lengthwise at one end of your mat.
- Come to Bharmanasana (Tabletop Pose) in the center of your mat. Place your palms under your shoulders and scoot your knees back a tiny bit so that they’re slightly behind your hip joints.
- Turn your toes under and lift up into Downward Facing Dog Pose, lifting your ischial tuberosities (aka “sit bones”) up toward the ceiling. Do not try to ground your heels unless you can do so without rounding your low back.
- Place your forehead on your bolster. You may need to adjust the bolster forward or back in order for your head and neck to feel comfortable.
- If your head doesn’t reach the bolster, return to Tabletop Pose and place two yoga blocks, at their lowest height under each end of your bolster. Then return to the pose.
- Allow your forehead to soften into the bolster.
- Stay for 5 to 10 deep breaths, relaxing on each exhalation.
- When you are ready to leave the pose, bend your knees and stretch back into Balasana (Child’s Pose) for a few breaths.