I admit that I am an animal advocate and a crazy dog lady. I have 2 dogs and a fish, and if it was socially acceptable to hoard animals in my third floor walk up apartment in Chicago, I would probably have about 4 more dogs, a few cats, a cow, pigs, some turtles, and perhaps a lizard. I stopped eating meat at an early age, because I could not fathom how odd it is to eat things that once had a heart and face. For many people, my feelings towards animals are over the top and even silly. But I believe animals to be far more advanced than we give them credit. They are at the core for so many yoga postures, and as a yogi, my admiration extends beyond that of a companion to cuddle. Animals keep the world evolving, and they respect the earth far more than most of us humans have the capacity for. They naturally adapt to the change of seasons, and evolve over time in a way that is in harmony with nature. And quite frankly, my dogs inspire me because they have the most amazing upward facing and downward facing dog, ever. No really, they essentially have mastered savasana because they practice it all day, every day.
Does it ever seem funny to anyone else that as yogis, we get together in a warm room and mimic a bunch of animal gestures with our bodies and very serious faces? Our yoga practice is essentially people in physical manifestations of animals, cobra, eagle, upward/downward facing dog, cow’s face, sphinx, pigeon, camel, frog, crow, crane, one-footed flying pigeon, noose, the list goes on. Yet it often occurs to me that very few of us are actually thinking about the postures of these animals as a way to guide us into a pose. We are basically playing charades without the guessing and time restraints. Animals don’t have to practice yoga, they just do it naturally.
During my classes I teach and use both the Sanskrit and English translation of postures. It is important to respect that of the original name of an asana, but also relate it to a language students are familiar with so they can better make the connection of how the posture should look and feel. The original yogis used the natural world around them to create postures as a way live in harmony with the natural world surrounding them. Yoga is now practiced in studios around the world, saturated heavily in urban areas and cities. We cram into these studios and turn up the air to increase circulation, rather than breathing in oxygen from the outside. Are you really thinking of a snake when breathing into cobra? Does imagining a cow’s face actually help you in Gomukhasana? How about Ustrasana… can anyone locate the shape of the camel when you are reaching your hands for your heels and puffing up your chest?
Every morning we get up, I excitedly tell my dogs we are going outside for a walk. I watch as they do their own variation of a sun salute, no props necessary. From laying down, they stretch and extend through all their limbs, they move up to all four legs, then transition from downward facing dog to upward facing dog, take a big yawn and wind up their tails in excitement for our walk. They didn’t have to be taught that sequence, nor does it ever get old for them. They don’t need mirrors to see how the posture looks. They just feel it. It is just what they naturally do each day, as their morning ritual to open and begin the day anew. So give props to your pet if you have one, and look to them for inspiration for your yoga practice, because they got it down.