Known in Sanskrit as adho mukha svanasana, downward dog is of the most ubiquitous poses in yoga for many reasons. This article delves into the reasons why downward-facing dog is a staple posture for yogis of all levels. As an Acupuncturist and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner as well as a dedicated student of yoga, I would like to explain why this posture makes us feel so good, how exactly it relates to acupuncture, and why it is so beneficial and effective as a posture.
Downward-Facing Dog Has Your Back
From an acupuncture perspective, downward-facing dog has a highly therapeutic effect in activating the bladder channel.
The Bladder channel, sometimes referred to as tai yang or Greater Yang, is the longest channel and most complex meridian in the body. It has 67 acupuncture points that run from the inner portion of the eyelid and travels up the forehead to the top of the head and down the back of the head. It then forms two branches that travel down the back to the sacrum along the spine. From here it goes along the middle of the butt, and then to the back of the thigh. The two branches then meet behind the knee and travel between the calf along the Achilles tendon to the outside of the foot. The Bladder Meridian ends at the outside of the baby toe.
The location of the Bladder channel is significant because the back in acupuncture is considered the most yang—the most external, superficial—part of the body. It is our initial connection with the outside world.
The Bladder channel, occupying a large portion of the backside, is our first line of defense against invading external factores in our environment such as cold, wind, germs, pollen, etc. Points along this meridian thus can be very effective when trying to boost the immune system and ward off colds and flu.
If there are imbalances in the Bladder meridian certain physical and or emotional manifestations may start to appear. Physical imbalances would show as headaches, back problems, or urinary problems including excessive urination and incontinence, pain in the eyes, tearing and colds. Emotional imbalances may start to arise in the form of lack of energy, being inflexible and fearful - resisting change and basic negative attitude are also expressions of Bladder Meridian imbalance.
When the meridian is balanced one can expect to feel hopeful, looking forward, calm and peaceful.
Downward-facing dog elongates the entire Bladder channel, enabling flow and strengthening the body’s primary defense mechanism. One of the fundamental principals of Chinese Medicine is to open up flow and remove any blockages in the meridians. The saying goes that where there is free flow, there is no pain. You can see here then that downward dog, lengthening out the back from the very tips of your toes, up your back and through your fully relaxed neck, has such a tremendous therapeutic effect on the entire body and all internal organs.
The large surface area covered by the Bladder channel means that its applications extend beyond immunity. The Bladder channel is used to treat a very wide range of conditions, including pain in any part of the body that’s located along its route—headaches; neck pain; upper, mid and low back pain; pulled hamstrings; calf strains; and foot pain. So too are the applications of down dog.
But even more than size or location, the reason the Bladder channel is so important to overall health—and the reason downward-facing dog is such a powerful yoga pose is because it contains what are known in acupuncture as the Back Shu points.
Each of the body’s organs has its own Back Shu point along the Bladder channel. Shu in Chinese means “to transport".
Back Shu points are used both diagnostically as well as treatment points. If a certain point is tender, noticeably raised or depressed, or any sort of skin markings, it may indicate that something’s going on with that point’s corresponding organ meridian system. Birth marks, freckles, scars from previous injuries can also be indicative of something going on in that meridian. In addition to using these points for diagnosis, these points can be needled or cupped if there is an imbalance indicated.
The Back Shu points are traditionally associated with treating chronic diseases. Some examples but not an exhaustive list include: anxiety, menstrual irregularities, asthma, allergies, incontinence, migraines, insomnia, etc.
Downward-facing dog is unique in its ability to engage the largest and most all-encompassing channel. In your yoga practice it can always be your home base, a true north and a staple for every practice.
So next time you’re in down dog send a little extra love and energy through that meridian and know that your are doing so much goodness for your entire body. Hope to see you all in down dog, it’s always got your back! Check out Sarah Calabro founder of Acutake for more detailed insight on the combination of yoga and acupuncture and other highly knowledgeable and fun articles on Acupuncture.
Next up for me...my new found love of Tadasana. Stay tuned ;)