Downward Dog: Reexamining What is Habitual

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I teach a broad range of classes, from basics to hot vinyasa to honey flow (and if that intrigues you, check out my website!). Joining those classes on any day are a range of yogis from beginners to advanced to fellow teachers, those with whom I have practiced for years and those I meet for the first time.

Now for the surprise. I break down downward dog to every single student in every single class. Only a day-one yogi has never been in downward dog, so of course, it is my honor to introduce that yogi to this foundational pose.

And most yogis who have been in downward dog many times can still benefit from the grounding instructions, “sharpen your arms, bring your toes up to engage the front of the legs, don’t worry about touching your heels down to the ground.”

But what about the advanced yogis? What about fellow teachers in my class? Is there a purpose to breaking down a pose they do dozens of times each and every day? Yes. And it is a reason that extends far beyond downward dog and even more broadly than yoga.

Things we do again and again become habitual. In fact, it is a great evolutionary survival mechanism of our brains that we can approach familiar movements with an automaticity that reserves our precious brain power for novel endeavors.

But this automaticity exacts a toll. It can be hard to be mindful in the habitual. Reexamining the things we do regularly can give them a renewed sense of purpose. So no matter how many times you have been in downward dog, make it feel like your first.

  • Feel the even weight of your body between your limbs.
  • Sharpen your legs, sharpen your arms, and extend the side of your trunk.
  • Push the front of your thighs towards the back of your thighs and lift your hips upwards and backwards.
  • Feel the stretch extend from the soles of your feet, through your calves and into your hamstrings. Let that lengthen your spine.
  • As you fold forward, sending your unique energy inward, accept that calming effect on your nervous system and allow yourself to look within. I bet you’ll like what you find. 

By Ahmed Soliman

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Before I found yoga and began teaching, I was a wildlife biologist and environmental scientist. Serving the natural environment and helping to recover endangered species was my way of giving to a greater good. This is a concept that I’ve carried daily into a yogic lifestyle, both in teaching and in practice. I seek to serve this community in a way that supports strength, healing, and sustainability. After having multiple knee surgeries due to a car accident, I myself sought these qualities from my own encounter with yoga. I had to transition from contact sports like soccer to the safer and deeper space that the practice provides. A continuing student of Iyengar yoga, vinyasa, and meditation, I believe that awareness of breath, knowledge of the body, and mental focus on the mat lead to mindfulness and living harmoniously off the mat. I draw from my own experience and the study of human anatomy to offer a safe and grounded space for practitioners. I endeavor to help them explore their physical boundaries with a focus on intelligent alignment, awareness of breath, and steadying or relaxation of the mind. I have studied with Nikki Costello, Nikki Vilella, Magi Pierce, and other influential teachers. I am an ERYT-200 hour yoga alliance certified teacher with additional specialized training in anatomy, meditation and yoga nidra. Connect with Ahmed on Instagram or http://yogisoli.com/