HOW TO PRACTICE Upward Facing Dog IN YOGA (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
Benefits, How to Instructions, Modifications, and Common Alignment Mistakes for Upward Facing Dog Pose
An energetic yoga pose that awakens the entire body, Upward Facing Dog (Sanskrit name: Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) is a powerful backbend that strengthens the arms, shoulders and back muscles, lengthens the spine and opens the chest.
It’s worth taking a closer look at Upward Facing Dog, as it is one of the most common yoga postures. Along with Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) and Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose), Upward Facing Dog is at the core of the Surya Namaskara sequences practiced throughout a Vinyasa yoga practice.
This is a great asana to incorporate into your morning practice to help you feel charged up, and ready for your day. That said, care must be taken to distribute the backbend evenly throughout your whole spine. Without adequate shoulder girdle, upper body, and leg strength, some yogis collapse into their shoulders and the lumbo-thoracic area of the back when attempting the version of the yoga pose pictured here. This creates unhealthy compression in both the neck and spine. But the strengthening benefits of the asana make it one worth working toward. You’ll find many good ways to develop strength in those key areas by doing the pose variations found in the Yoga 2.0 section.
Benefits of Upward Facing Dog Pose
Practicing Urdhva Mukha Svanasana strengthens the spinal extensors, shoulders, arms, and wrists. Maintaining proper form for several breaths in any variation of the yoga pose is an efficient way to tone the core. Strength in these areas is needed for proper alignment in many other yoga postures, so this is a great pose to start incorporating into your practice.
Upward Facing Dog also stretches many parts of the body, most notably opening the chest, shoulders and abdomen. When performed with a smooth, steady breath, this pose can have the effect of freeing the breath and energizing the body.
If you are practicing this pose correctly, you will find yourself engaging your buttocks to keep your thighs off the ground, making it helpful for firming your backside. Coupled with the strengthening effect on the erector spinae and the stabilizing core muscles, the glute-strengthening power of Upward Facing Dog Pose can improve posture and even help prevent loss of bone density.
Because Urdhva Mukha Svanasana is a backbend, it is an energizing asana, which can have a positive effect on mood and energy.
How to do Upward Facing Dog Pose
- Lie on your stomach with your forehead down and the tops of your feet on the yoga mat. Bend your elbows, place your hands alongside your ribcage and draw your palms back toward your waist until your forearms are relatively perpendicular to the floor.
- Actively reach back through the inner edges of your feet. Press the tops of your feet down into the mat, engaging the muscles on all four sides of your legs.
- With your fingers spread, press down through the pads of your palms (keep the roots of your index fingers down) and lift your shoulder heads up away from the floor. Draw your shoulder blades downward and flatten them onto your ribcage.
- On an inhalation, press down and slightly backward through your palms, as if you were trying to propel your body forward on the floor, and begin to straighten your arms, simultaneously lifting your torso, hips and legs off the floor.
- Keep pressing down through the tops of your feet, and firm your thighs without totally clenching your buttocks. Lift your pubic bone and lower belly up, extending up through the crown of your head.
- Rotate your upper arm bones outward and broaden across your collarbones. Firm your shoulder blades into your back ribs and lift your sternum. Lengthen the back of your neck as you slightly turn your gaze up.
- Take a few deep breaths in Upward Facing Dog Pose.
- When you are ready, lower your knees to the floor, moving into Bharmanasana (Tabletop Pose). Then either return to a prone position or rest in Balasana (Child’s Pose).