Ladies and gentlemen, let me be the first to tell you the news. We are currently in the midst of a yoga epidemic. Did you know?
The symptoms of this epidemic are as follows:
1.) excessive amounts of wrist grabbing.
2.) a predominance of shoulder injuries
4.) coming up on fists where you should be on palms
5.) and the overall prevalence of Downward Facing Dog in every yoga class.
The epidemic is called “Downward Facing Dog Mania.”
This week I have had about five conversations about Downward Facing Dog Without boring you with the details of these chats, I can tell you that yoga students that I speak with in person and in the virtual sangha are struggling with the asanas that make up Surya Namaskar or sun salutations. The primary culprit is Downward Facing Dog. While the flow itself warrants a whole blog post (don’t get me started) the individual postures themselves present serious issues for many of the yoga students coming to the mat these days, particularly Downward Facing Dog.
So let’s address Downward Facing Dog. The root of this epidemic of injuries and angst may come from the single fact that Downward Facing Dog (DFD) has become one of the faces of yoga in the 21st century. This asana is not basic, nor is it a good choice for students with many different shoulder, wrist and/or back maladies. There is a significant amount of weight on the hands/wrists, there is the aspect of spinal flexion and the stability of the shoulders is often in question due to the misalignment of the yogi. Why do we insist upon putting DFD in every single class? Why do I consistently have conversations with students who a.) attempt to do this asana with fists (a big no no by the way) because their wrists hurt b.) have no idea what alternative pose to do or c.)hate, detest and despise this pose?
The amount of times I stop a class to discuss DFD is astonishing (just ask my students). The number of times I offer permission to not do DFD and provide an alternative and these words are met with a “thank you so much, I had no idea I did not have to do this pose” is criminal. Students are clearly not understanding that the asana is an option, that if it hurts it’s a no and that there are a multitude of options to chose from that are not DFD but have the same benefits.
What upsets me about this epidemic is that many yoga students are putting themselves in a place of real risk to their shoulders and wrists in particular. They do not feel the permission to not do DFD so instead alter their bodies while in the pose to avoid the negative sensations they are feeling. This misalignment sets them up for other injuries and creates a feeling of discomfort, struggle and work in a pose that should include a sensation of ease and stability.
The ideas that DFD is a requirement for every yoga class and to not do it is bad are pervasive.
As a yoga community I think we need to examine how we are training our yoga teachers to instruct this asana and the others that make up the sequence of Surya Namaskar. We need to remind them that a class IS in fact complete without DFD, that no one ever has to do a sun salutation and that much of the population is not at ease in this sequence, especially in this asana (DFD). We need to teach our trainees enough anatomy for each asana that they understand what is opened, stabilized, strengthened and engaged so that they can offer alternatives that are less harmful but equally beneficial to the yogis in their classes. New teachers need to learn to really see the cues that their students are giving them (coming out of long holdings early, grabbing wrists, coming up on fists, circling shoulders, etc.) which point to discomfort in the pose. We need to emphasize creativity based upon anatomy and de-emphasize the idea that DFD is a resting pose in the middle of a vinyasa. We need to remind teachers and students that a class without DFD or sun salutations can be just as valuable and as powerful as one with it.
And we need to communicate with our students clearly about the ease that is available in asanas that are done with structural integrity and stability. If we show them every class that a fast vinyasa requires a rest in DFD and that a class is not a class without these poses, then they will feel less than if they cannot do them. They will question their “yogi-ness” if these asanas hurt them, and will continue to put strain upon their shoulders and wrists. They will resist the classes that do not have flow even if those classes might further the injuries they already have.
I’m going to fight this epidemic with the drug of love: love for my shoulders, wrists and more. Love for these joints in my students and for the healing and bliss that can come from a class without DFD and sun salutations. I am going to always remind them of alternatives, I am going to continue de-emphasizing and deconstructing this asanas, and I am going to see who is in the room rather than just simply teach what I want to on that day.
Together we can beat this epidemic. We can change the idea that yoga is DFD and sun salutations. We can remind people that it is a practice of finding ease in your body, mind and spirit and that these asanas are NOT a requirement to get that. Join me in teaching one DFD free class a week. If you are a student, try an alternative pose (child’s pose, cat pose, one legged plank) and give yourself a chance to acknowledge that “yoga” as it is defined does not include the words “Downward Facing Dog.”
My rant is done, but my message is deeply rooted. Be safe yogis and if no one else will tell you I will: you do not need to do Downward Facing Dog to be doing yoga. Consider this post your permission to never have to do it again.