Photo of Golden Retriever dog playing in the creek.

Down Dog-The Origin Story

by Kris Phillips

For most of my life I practiced Yoga with little commitment until 2011 when a car accident ruptured 2 discs in my back. During my recovery I followed doctor’s orders and went to the chiropractor three times a week. That got me functional, but not happy or pain free.

With the gentle nudging of my big sister Katrina, who teaches Yoga in Ventura, I found a Yoga class that was close enough to home and gentle enough to work for me. For the next year I was completely committed, almost never missing a class and I am so grateful to Tera out in Sedona for helping me heal.

When I moved to Denver I was overwhelmed with the number of studios and classes to choose from. After trying several and suffering from a bit of Goldilocks syndrome I couldn’t find one that just felt right. And started to backslide.

So I decided to try practicing in my living room. If you have ever tried to practice Yoga at home with pets in the vicinity you probably know exactly the experience I had. My otherwise disinterested pets suddenly form static cling. Apparently my version of “downward dog” looks to Swota like a play bow. She mirrors me, which is cute until I feel a big paw smack me in the back of the head.  No sooner did I sweep her off then I see Yukon to my side belly-crawling closer and closer hoping for attention. So much for calm & inner peace! Exasperated and grumbling I gave up, rolled up my mat and went about my life. A few days later I tried again, this time hiding in the bed room where none of the pets happened to be. Within minutes it was the same experience.

A few days later I shared the experience with my sister, mostly as an excuse for why I hadn’t been practicing. Her wisdom for all things Yoga got me rethinking my approach. She teaches a lot of private Yoga sessions at her clients home, often with their pets. She told me about one client who’s big Lab had developed his own practice. He would come join them and enjoy a relaxing massage from Katrina while she led his owners practice. I also started thinking about things from the dogs perspective. Most of the time I am on two legs, sitting on a chair, generally above them. When I join them on the floor they are simply welcoming me to their space. And truthfully “downward facing dog” looks an awful lot like a play bow. How exciting it must be for them to have me initiate the game!

Once I really thought about it I understood what had the dogs pawing at me. I’ll be the first to admit I have a high energy personality, occasionally prone to stress and tension. But when I roll out my mat and take a few deep breaths, that melts away. I become an energy the dogs want to be around.

And as I began shooting for The Yoga Dog Project I found out my dogs weren’t unique. Every yogi I photographed had the same experience. Some even had chew holes in their yoga mats to prove it.

So with a little perspective I realized that the animals weren’t trying to sabotage my practice, they were trying to join it. Now I focus on flowing around and with them. If Swota greets my “down-dog” with a smack to the back of the head, I laugh instead of grumble and roll her over with a good belly scratch. After all, one of the many things we are supposed to learn from Yoga is not take ourselves so seriously.



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