Barbara Benaghclasses and workshopsWorkshops + RetreatsTeachingsMediaContactHome
Downward-Facing Dog to Upward Bow


Earlier this year while watching Jazz, filmmaker Ken Burns's documentary series, I was struck by a comment from Chicago jazz great Eddie Condon. A leader in the desegregation of jazz, Condon observed that when white musicians first came on the scene they were eager to play jazz but "stiff with education." I was reminded that as we in the West embrace the ancient tradition of yoga, we need to leave room for the earthy elements that keep a yoga practice as playful as it is serious.

Contemporary yoga, highly influenced by Western culture, has taken the practice to whole new levels of anatomical precision. And there's no doubt about it: Technique and form matter. Proper form harnesses our energy and puts it to good use. Biomechanical details guide us around obstacles and help us avoid pitfalls. Yet if we become too attached to form, we risk losing the simple pleasures and insights of mindful movement and may end up perpetuating the barrier between body and mind that, ideally, hatha yoga breaks down. We can easily forget yoga is a dance.

In this column I'll describe a vinyasa–the word can signify a particular position or movement but is most often used to refer to a series of movements consciously linked by the breath–a wonderful example of how a sense of dance can be preserved in yoga. This series of poses evolved, I'm sure, from yoga practiced less with ambition than with curiosity and a compelling impulse to see beyond the familiar boundaries of asana.

Though the sequence can be great fun, it requires both shoulder and spinal flexibility, so I advise waiting until the latter part of your practice when you are thoroughly warmed up before trying it. To prepare for the sequence you can practice backbends and shoulder openers. Also, as you progress through the sequence, keep in mind that you don't have to complete the whole vinyasa. The point is just to get into the flow and explore.

Downward-Facing Dog to Upward Bow

» Demonstrations

» Intro

» Engaging the Shoulders

» Extending the Spine

» Twisting the Torso

• Tones Spine
• Massages and strengthens abdominal organs
• Makes shoulders more flexible
• Strengthens arms and legs Builds endurance Contraindications

• Tendency to dislocate shoulders Chronic shoulder injuries
• Pregnancy
• Unmanaged high or low blood pressure
• Herniated lumbar discs
• Positional vertigo


© 2001 Barbara Benagh
Reprinted from Yoga Journal