One Pose—Three Ways
"Many of the people I teach have physical or health issues that may preclude them from doing the full expression of a yoga pose," commented Patty Schneider, who instructs beginner, gentle, chair and restorative yoga. Karma is also part of her regular practice. She volunteers through Liberation Prison Yoga to teach inmates of the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women. She also volunteers with Gilda’s Club Westchester to offer yoga to people living with cancer. Here is her version of Downward-Facting Dog:
YogaCity NYC: What pose did you choose and why do you like it?
Patty Schneider: Downward-Facing Dog is such a basic pose, part of just about every yoga class. For this reason, people assume it is simple and easy to do. Not so! So much is going on in Down Dog that you can do it for years and still not reach its full expression. It can be very challenging for beginners, and also those with physical issues, including wrist, shoulder, or back pain. However, it gives a lot of release to muscles all over the body, and also teaches basic muscular engagement, as does Mountain Pose. That is why I like to include an accessible version of it in my classes.
YCNYC: Describe the anatomy of the first pose and the body parts engaged.
PS: In this variation, Puppy Dog, the knees are on the mat, and the hips are aligned over the knees. The hands walk forward as far as possible, without causing the hips to pull out of alignment. As in regular Down Dog, the palms are pressed firmly into the mat and the fingers are spread wide. The inner arms draw towards each other, and the shoulders are externally rotated. Press the shins and tops of the feet into the mat, and draw the hip points towards the bottom rib to engage the core muscles and keep the belly from sagging. It is not necessary to support the forehead on a block, but it can be a helpful prop for
students with stiff shoulders or neck issues.
YCNYC: What body parts are engaged in the second pose?
PS: This is the variation I use in my chair yoga class as part of a seated sun salutation. I slide forward a bit so my backside is halfway between the back of the chair and the edge of the seat. From there, I straighten my arms and legs, flex wrists and ankles, and press hands and feet into an imaginary wall (or floor). From there, I engage arms and core as noted above, and draw my knees towards my quadriceps to engage my legs. I keep the shoulder bones in the sockets, and lift my sternum to prevent slouching. This is the only one of my Down Dog variations that does not have the effect of an inversion.
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)?
PS: This is a restorative version of Down Dog which I learned from Jillian Pransky during her restorative yoga teacher training. I am lying over a bolster which supports my torso from collarbone to pelvis. The head should have enough room to hang over one end of the bolster and rest on the crossed hands or forearms (or on a block or blanket). The legs are relaxed on either side of the bolster. If there is too much pressure on the knees, the student can build up the bolster by stacking folded blankets on top to lift the torso higher. A blanket folded into a long rectangular strip (a “bolster fold”) can be used instead of a bolster. In this version, the student can completely relax as the props hold the body in the pose –
which still has a slight inversion to it!
Currently, Patty teaches a chair yoga class for people aged 60 and above in Dobbs Ferry through Westchester Community College and the Westchester Department of Senior Services. She also instructs restorative yoga class at Tovami Yoga in Mamaroneck.