By now, we've all seen the above photo of Jon Gosselin practicing yoga, and in particular, Jon Gosselin practicing Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, or as it is more commonly known, "Upward Facing Dog Pose", or as I will be calling it here: "Updog". Updog is a key pose in any vinyasa yoga practice (vinyasa yoga is the vigorous form of yoga that links breath to movement and connects each pose to the next through a repetitive sequences of three to five poses known as a "vinyasa", which inevitably includes Updog). It is repeated too many times to count in most vinyasa practices (and yes, I have tried to count it, never being able to keep track after 60 or so). It forms a "counterpose" to just about any pose that consists of a forward bend, and in particular, to Adho Mukka Svanasana, or as it is more commonly known, "Downward Facing Dog Pose, or "Downdog", which is the pose in which the body forms the shape of an upside down "V", with the feet and hands on the ground and the butt in the air).
The physical benefits of Updog are myriad. They include the strengthening of the muscles of the back, the arms, the legs and the buttocks (there is a clenching of the buttocks that occurs when first practicing Updog, although over time and with practice, the buttocks clenches less, and the legs engage more). They also include a broadening of the chest cavity, which provides space for improved lung capacity and better, slower breathing. Updog also enhances flexibility in the spine (think tailbone up to the base of the skull), the wrists and even the ankles.
Energetically speaking, if you are inclined to believe in such things (not that there's anything wrong with that), Updog allows us to ground ourselves, become one with the earth, become clearer in our logic -- while still expanding the heart and lifting it up towards the sky. It's an opportunity to stay connected with what is safe and solid and good while still practicing opening up and becoming vulnerable and giving.
Certainly, Jon Gosselin could benefit from some of that energetic work. If we are to believe what we read in the ... everywhere ... it appears that his marriage is in tatters, his relationship with his girlfriend is in disarray, and his relationship with his former network, TLC, has broken down to the point where lawyers have begun taking aim. I'm not even going to mention what this is all doing to his eight kids. Practicing Updog correctly could help Jon to ground himself in his relationships while opening himself up to what others have to offer as well as to the possibility of giving authentically of himself.
Let's take a deeper look at the photo of Jon in Updog, which comes from Us Magazine. While it is clear that Jon is blessed with a nice, flexible spine and even hyper-flexible elbows, it is also clear that he has his work cut out for him if he wants to truly enjoy the benefits of Updog. So, let's set about fixing Jon's Updog:
First thing Jon should do is to ease up on those hyper-extended elbows. Let the elbows bend a bit as he engages the muscles in his legs, imagining shooting energy back through his toes. The leg engagement should be so strong that it literally lifts his pelvis off the floor and creates space so that his chest can expand and move forward as he takes a long, deep inhale (through the nose). He should be thinking "forward" and "expand" with regard to his chest, rather than "up" (because it looks from the photo as if his tendency is to lift it up, when all that really does is cause his shoulders to scootch up by his ears and his elbows to hyper-extend themselves backwards).
Summing up where we are so far, we have asked Jon to engage the legs strongly, point the toes back and expand the chest forward. At this point, he can begin to press into the floor with the flat of his palms to straighten his arms, but not to the point of hyper-extension. He needs to use his strength to keep at bay that extra bit of flexibility in his elbow joints, which will only cause him to sink inward in the chest and lift his shoulders up to his ears. So, he needs to straighten the arms, but softly, while at the same time, drawing his shoulders away from his ears, and likewise, his ears away from his shoulders. Some yoga teachers like to advise that the elbow creases should be pointing forward in Updog, but in Jon's case, I think that it is enough to be mindful of the tendency to sink into the hyper-flexibility of the elbow joints and use his strength to counteract that.
At this point, if Jon finds that his butt is clenching, he should try to relax it, consciously, and remind his legs to do the work. If he finds his shoulders climbing up, he should release them down. If he finds that his feet are starting to turn inward, he needs to make them parallel again, or even roll the outer thighs in slightly, unless that makes his lower back feel compressed, in which case, parallel is fine.
Finessing the pose further, Jon should lift his eyes upward, allowing his head to gently tip back (unless this causes pain) because the cervical spine is part of the spine, and should be included in all backbends (again, unless pain or injury is a counterindication). It would be a good idea at this point to remove the backwards baseball cap because it could interfere with the backbend reaching Jon's cervical spine. Or it might fall off in the middle of the pose, which could be distracting.
And by all means, Jon should be breathing throughout all of this (what IS it about not breathing? Oh yes, it makes us dead). Each inhale should expand his chest. Each exhale is equally important, lest he hold his breath and find himself panting when he comes out of the pose.
As Jon explores these adjustments to his Updog, he may feel some uncomfortable emotions bubbling up to the surface. These can include anxiety and/or anger, which are physiological responses to bearing one's neck and exposing one's front body. It's not hocus-pocus, really (if it were, you wouldn't hear me talking about it). This is simply a vestige of our having evolved from animals with razor-sharp survival instincts. If he feels those feelings, he should be aware that they are fleeting and usually end just as soon as the pose does. If they do not, that is, if he feels angry or anxious following an intense exploration of Updog, he should come back to the mat and do several minutes of forward bends, which tend to sooth. Think of them as hugging oneself.
Good luck, Jon. It's good to see you doing the yoga. And please have a lovely Namas-day!
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