What If The Old Dog Is The New Trick…
with Andrea Marcum, Lululemon brand ambassador and writer
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” – Zen Master Shunryo Suzuki
What if I were to tell you that something as simple as downward dog could be your roadmap to lasting transformation?
We often start doing yoga because we’re looking for a form of exercise. And the physical incentive is a great place to start. B.K.S. Iyengar himself said, “Penetration of the mind is our goal, but in the beginning there is no substitute for sweat.” Look, I understand that working our muscles feels immediate and palpable. Almost instantly we feel like we are inviting progress in some way. I also know that if we’re going to truly liberate ourselves, focusing only on our bodies will not be enough.
Yoga is, by Hindi/Sanskrit definition, the “union or yoke” of body, mind and spirit. And truly “advanced” yoga is not about what elaborate acrobatic tricks we can pull out of our sleeves or how flexible our body is – it’s the awareness and integrity with which we do the simplest of things. Our postures hold the potential to be powerful agents of change.
Prepare to climb into downward facing dog, but before you do, prepare to begin again. Even if you’re an old pro convinced you’ve got down dog nailed and can do it blindfolded with your hands tied behind your back. Even if you’ve done a bazillion of them, imagine this is your first downward dog ever, and you are feeling it in such a way as to describe every nuance to someone who won’t get the chance to do one of their own. You’re going to try to stay here for five minutes, which sounds like nothing until it’s your turn to do it.
I know that you won’t need to— not you, you’ve totally got this– but if someone needed to come out of this early they absolutely could… You might try closing your eyes to help turn the arrows of attention away from any distractions outside too (pratyahara in yoga-speak).
Place your hands on your mat shoulder’s distance apart and spread them wide. Curl your toes under and lift your hips up and back turning your body into in inverted V shape… then let’er steep for five minutes.
Hey you! You over there in down dog beginning again! Are you breathing? Are your wrists sore? Is there tightness anywhere? Is it stretch or strength that you notice most? Where? Pay close attention to where your body meets the ground as well as how it lifts and extends away from the pull of gravity. Are resistance or impatience bubbling up and limiting your perception of newness? Can you set them aside and return to the “many possibilities” of your beginner’s mind that our Zen Master Suzuki quote at the top of the page suggests? Or are you the stoic “expert” he mentions whose possibilities are “few?”
As you’re in your downward dog, see if you can make one brand new discovery about your downward dog that you’ve never noticed before. That might be a physical sensation or even an emotional response. Downward dog is that pause in vinyasa yoga where you take inventory as to how and what you are feeling in that particular moment. Where you check in with your breath, and reestablish your focus. It is the end of one vinyasa and the beginning of another. The awareness we cultivate in downward dog informs the rest of our practice, our self, and ultimately our life. Pausing to pay attention to subtleties creates conscious space for something new. Our bodies become unstuck along with our minds and we can access our beginner’s mind again and again.
That got your attention… right? A pose you might normally take for granted suddenly became a brutally honest messenger about where you go when things get challenging body and mind. If we walk those dog observations into the folds of our life we can do the same as a way towards embracing and sustaining progress in the new-year ahead. What we do on our mat is merely a reflection of how we function off our mat.
If we want to create real, sustainable change in our lives we need to pay attention and invite ongoing inquiry. Whether that happens in a yoga pose, in our relationships, at work or in our habitual behavior we want to learn how to begin again and move onto something better. How we do our yoga is how we do our life.
Our life in dog’s years that is…
Andrea Marcum is based out of LA and is in love with the Bodytree community. Her book Close to OM: Stretching Yoga From Your Mat to Your Life releases December 26th from St Martin’s Press. Be on the lookout for workshops and retreats from Andrea… especially here with us in Abu Dhabi!