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Yoga Sequences

3 Ways to Play with Your Downward Dog—& Make What’s Old New Again

Think you’ve learned everything Down Dog has to teach? Baron Baptiste says you might be surprised if you try harnessing the power of play on the mat.

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Want to unlock an unexpected world of possibility in your practice—and your life? Then Yoga Journal’s upcoming course The Power of Play Bootcamp is for you. Baron Baptiste—veteran yoga teacher and founder of the Baptiste Institute and Baptiste Foundation—will lead you through four weeks of meditation, asana, and self-inquiry specifically designed to spark awakening and growth. Start the new year with a powerful perspective—and discover how to put it into action.

We are born to play—to explore and try new things, then to grow. All it takes is watching a baby to know it’s true. Play is an act of creativity and discovery. Through play, we are able to access different experiences, different emotional textures, and a full spectrum of feelings. Through play we can discover what’s already in our body and our experience, and then discover what’s possible.

Consider asana practice. When we are at play in a pose, we are in a process of discovery. That pulls us out of autopilot, away from our fixed way of doing a pose. Through the depth of our conscious breath, we create a gap between stimulus (body sensations and thoughts) and response (our actions). We can allow the gap between thoughts to get wider and wider, and in that gap we have the option to choose our response and take an alternative pathway in the pose. That power is another way of being at play in the pose—at play with what we feel in our body and working with the more subtle energetic aspects of the pose.

I believe that when we are at play in our practice we transform our physiological, mental, and emotional states—and we’re able to use the stress of a pose, or situation, to make ourselves better. That’s the central theme of my new course, The Power of Play Bootcamp. Want a taste? Roll out your mat, take Downward-Facing Dog, and let’s play!

1. Play with your stance.

Take on a beginner’s mindset and an open attitude. Notice where you placed your hands and feet. Now play with widening your stance by moving your hands toward the front of the mat and your feet toward the back. Notice your experience. Now shorten your stance by walking your hands and feet toward the center of the mat. Again, notice what you feel—and how you react to it.

2. Play with the position of your hands.

From a place of total curiosity, put your attention on your hands. Play with turning each hand out so that its fingertips point toward the corresponding upper corner of your mat. Notice how your pose changes, from where your hands touch the mat then up through your arms and shoulders and into your core. Next, move your hands toward the edges of the mat until they are wider than your shoulders or even until your baby fingertips are off the mat and touching the floor. How do these movements affect your experience of the pose from the floor to your core? Now, move the position of your hands to a place that feels just right—for right now. Through play you find the way that empowers you in each moment.

3. Play with tilting your tailbone.

From a mindset of wonderment, bend your knees and lift your tailbone toward the ceiling, taking the lumbar spine more deeply into the midbody and sucking up your lower belly to create Uddiyana Bandha (Upward Abdominal Lock). Keep the tilt and the bandha and slowly straighten your legs. Notice the changes in your body. From here, be at play with finding ways that integrate the muscles of your body, letting you root down through your extremities.

With this new foundation in the pose and from a space of curiosity, ask yourself: What can I let go of? What attitudes, perceptions, concerns, or beliefs can I give up so that I can experience the freedom to be at play, moment to moment, breath by breath?

Ready to start your process? Enroll in The Power of Play Bootcamp