One Pose—Three Ways

"After years of vigorous athletic yoga classes, my body starting breaking down," said Yuuki Hirano, co-founder of Dou Yoga in Brooklyn and the newly opened Suryaside Yoga in Queens. Having reexamined his relationship to asana, he now emphasizes meditation and functional movement. "At the same time, my inner athlete and adventurer yearns for arm balances and inversion, so I now approach more complex demanding poses through this meditative, therapeutic lens using repetition and breath rather than jumping around and over exertion." Here, he shows downward dog in three interesting parts:

YogaCity NYC: What pose did you chose and why do you like it?

YH: I chose Downward Facing Dog. It is one of the more fundamental poses that are taught in pretty much every single class but the subtleties and nuances are often overlooked. It took me years of exploration to figure out how to safely and effectively practice the pose. I like it because it is so multi-dimensional and by learning the foundation of this pose it educates and prepares the body for so many other possibilities, arm balances, handstands, forward folds.

YCNYC: Describe the anatomy of the first pose and body parts engaged.

YH: The gleonhumeral joints (shoulders) are flexed (lifted over the head) and working towards externalrotation. The acetabulofemoral joint (hips) are in flexion (bent) and remain neutral (no rotation).These are the two key components of this pose. The primary area of focus and engagement isaround the shoulder. The external rotators of the shoulders include teres minor and Infraspinatusand by engaging this external rotation and repositioning the torso in between the arms rather sinking straight through it will help the integrity of the shoulder joint. The deltoids, the most superficial muscle around the shoulder also engages to help maintain the support of the joint. When doing down dog against the wall, there is less body weight pushing down on the shoulder joint, making it more accessible to a greater population. Additionally it is a fantastic way to educate students in how to engage their shoulder muscles to protect the joint. When you let the shoulders relax and let your torso fall through your arms, without engaging the muscle it can place the tendons and ligaments at risk. You might feel a stretch, but if you’re not mindful of your range of motion and you keep stretching into that end range it can lead to a repetitive stress injury.

YCNYC: What body parts are engaged in the second pose?

YH: We now build off of what we did earlier. By positioning the hands on to the floor it asks the shoulders to engage a little more. Rather than allowing the torso to fall through the arms and letting the forehead rest on the floor, trying to lift yourself up will keep you table in a safer range of motion. If you think of your range of motion as a spectrum, you will have more control and stability in the middle rather than pushing to your edge. An added benefit of working on the knees is that it takes the emphasis out of the hamstrings and back of the legs. It seems that most people get fixated around stretching their hamstrings since they are “tight” but if you can focus more on supporting the spine, posture improves and will help your overall health much more than just having flexible hamstrings. There is the version of doing down dog on the forearms but by doing puppy dog it continues to educate the use of the shoulder muscles and building that support system.

YCNYC: What is the overall effect of the third pose on the body, and what does this one add to the understanding of the pose [and mind].

YH: The pièce de résistance is the full downward facing dog. I find this to be both calming and invigorating at the same time. If I’ve been working on the computer or studying for too long I will often come into downward facing dog to take a moment to shift my attention and clear my mind.

By rising up on to the feet it elevates the hips and puts more weight into the arms and hands. Here it is really important to keep the awareness of that shoulder stability since it is now that much more easy over stretch the shoulder. I like to use your own body parts to give a frame of reference to the movements so here I will often ask students to see if they can still see part of their upper arms in their peripheral vision while keeping their heads hanging and looking back at their own legs. If they can’t see their arms I ask them to shift slightly forward as if they were going to move in to plank. It makes down dog a little more difficult, especially those of us who are more flexible, but by engaging the muscles your joints and connective tissue will thank you in the long run.

To study with Yuuki Hirano, visit him at Dou Yoga or Suryaside Yoga. These days, he is focusing more on teacher trainings and his own study of acupuncture. An info session for the September teacher training is July 8.

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