You may have heard the quote, “Yoga is 1% inspiration and 99 % perspiration.” I like to do a spin off that and say kids yoga is 10% inspiration, 40% perspiration and 50% imagination! In looking for ways to stretch our conceptions of downward dog (literally and figuratively), I am going to offer a handful of ways to make this traditional pose more fun.
- Dog digging a hole
Start in downward dog, then jump feet out wide as if coming into what I sometimes call pyramid pose (prasarita padottanasana). Spread fingers out into claws, swing hands forward and rake them back between the legs like a dog digging a hole. Coordinate the movement with the inhale: breathe in as hands and arms swing forward, breathe out as they rake backward.
- Upward/downward dog swings
This is the same movement you find in sun salutations. Start in either downward or upward dog (or cobra to modify if it’s too tough to have hips off the ground). Let the breath in this one be audible! Come into downward dog and let out a woof! Then lower the hips into upward dog and howl at your imaginary moon (wild wolf!).
- Dog breath
This one has nothing to do with bad breath! It’s more about how dogs breathe in different ways. You can pant: let your tongue hang out, relax the face and jaws and pant (not too fast!). Make sure not to hyperventilate by emphasizing slower panting and bring the focus to relaxing the jaw (think droopy-faced bull dog).
Some dogs howl, too! Take in a slow, deep breath and then on the exhale do a long howl. Try different pitches (high little yapper howls, big bellowing howls, etc…).
Then of course, there is barking. Inhale slowly for a count of 4, then let out 3 or 4 barks, using the belly to push the air out (think kapalabhati).
Finally, there’s sleeping dog breath. Show your little yogis a few ways dogs like to sleep – on their bellies with legs and feet tucked under or lying on their sides, for example – then lead them through a simple abdominal breath.
- Upside down dog (Dandasana with arms raised)
When teaching yoga to adults, I often like to mention the relationship between different poses that call for the same basic shape. For instance, rag doll (uttanasana, or standing forward bend) is the same position as paschimottanasana (seated forward bend). For downward dog, I show how dandasana with arms raised is like an upside down downward dog. Exploring these types of relationships between postures helps bring appreciation of gravity and how it acts on the body.
- Wall dog or partner dog
Speaking of gravity, doing ‘downward dog’ against the wall offers a way to practice the pose with minimal weight on the hands. This can also be done as a partner pose, which adds an element of pulling and counterbalance (two yogis hold hands, step back until the torsos are more or less parallel to the floor with hips above knees and ankles. To counterbalance, each yogi gently leans back, holding their partner’s hands firmly). This adds some decompression to the spine and arms that is the opposite of the weight that is born on these areas in traditional downward dog. In the “Yoga Pretzels” deck, there’s a variation of this called Rooftops – in this one, the torsos are not parallel to the ground.
I hope these ideas have sparked your inspiration to try different forms of downward dog with your yogis! Please feel free to use your own imagination to modify or add to what I’ve shared here. Channel your inner downward dog!