"Downward facing dog" - after nearly 30 years that was the very first yoga pose I was asked to do in class. I had never heard of that pose before and I performed it miserably, with bent knees and a round back. So whats up with this "Dog pose", Downwards and Upwards? Has anyone wondered why this pose has such a special place in Yoga.
As I got more proficient and regular with classes, I realized that these two poses give you a whole body experience of stretching and can be both restorative and but give you a tremendous work out. We learnt this pose from our dogs and humans love for dogs extended into yoga centuries ago. There is reason why dog is considered man's best friend as dogs teach us many valuable lessons including some very important yoga poses. In Iyengar yoga this pose is performed in nearly every class, along with Tadasana and Sarvangasana. But is it just the stretch, or is it because of our love and attachment to our dogs, even 4000 years ago? You be the judge!
Many times when I do this pose, I remember my pooch "KOKO" my long gone friend and companion when I was a teenager. KOKO was my best friend. I raised him from a cute puppy to a rambunctious teenager and then a mid aged dog. KOKO loved to play chase and hide and seek. He loved to cuddle at our feet in bed to keep them warm, because as a Lhasa Apso his lineage was bred to do that for the Tibetan Monks in cold winters.
He was the fourth child of the family. He loved his garden chair with his favorite cushion. His one stare would be telling enough for you to relinquish, so he could immediately jump in and take his place to bask in the sun. He loved to dig out carrots and eggplants from the vegetable garden and eat them like he was chewing on bones or a nice peace of meat, where the skin of the eggplant was left as tasteless fat. There would be purple patches of eggplant skin scattered all over the yard. He was truly a vegetarian dog. His technique to devour carrots and eggplants was legendary.
His memories remain with me in form of pictures of him performing the perfect "begging pose with a hat and a tie". He could stretch better than other dogs. He could get his back legs stretched all the way back in a sitting position and he could perform the most perfect Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upwards facing dog). I pass his memories to my kids by telling them stories about KOKO. A few years back while on a family trip to India, we visited the house I grew up in as a kid and went to the park where he was buried unknown to me, as I was not present when he passed way. My kids called for KOKO and out came a stray dog from behind the bushes wagging his tail. They got a fright, but I knew KOKO's spirit was still there out in the park.
KOKO loved his stray dog friends and despite our best efforts to keep him at bay, he would take every opportunity to run off the moment the gate opened at the driveway to play with them. One day he didn't return. I had left home for college and no one was there to chase him and get him home safe. He got lost and "kidnapped" to another town. He came back three months later very sick, with a broken leash around his collar.
He must have made a brave effort to escape to come home to his family. It was unconditional love that brought him back. No matter how you treated KOKO, he loved you unconditionally with his wagging tail and Slurpee licks. KOKO never recovered from the illness. He died peacefully in his sleep one night on his favorite cushion. I was unaware and not present, having moved to another continent. I didn't find out till a year later. He was gone, but his memories have remained and will pass on through memories I have shared with my children.
I miss KOKO and most of all I miss his unconditional love. Even in heaven where he lives now, I know he is wagging his tail and performing the most perfect dog pose for me....There is so much we can learn from our dogs, what unconditional love really means and not the least some important aspects of yoga!