Open your chest and heal your back using a gentle stretch.
Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) Step by Step Guide
To perform upward dog, first lie flat on the mat on your belly and stretch your arms and legs. Next, try stretching your back and elongating your neck.
Gaze forward and keep your chin propped on the mat.
Take a big breath and bring your shoulder blades back and forward to improve your mobility. After this, squeeze your shoulder blades.
With an exhale, apply pressure on your mat while keeping your hands down and straightening your arms.
When you feel your are balanced enough and you can hold yourself using your arms alone, lift your torso and legs as if you would were doing a half push-up.
Next, make sure your weight is distributed evenly between your arms and legs. If you feel too much pressure on your lower legs, place a soft towel underneath.
Push yourself up not by using your toes, but by simply placing your legs on the floor and your arms beside you.
Your palms should be facing forward, positioned closer to your feet than your torso.
Lengthen your upper body area and elongate your neck while gazing forward.
Bring your shoulder blades back to force your chest area to go up instead.
Hold the upward facing dog for at least two full breaths and release by lowering your belly towards the mat.
Upward Facing Dog Variations
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana is one of the foundational poses of any Yoga practice. It is central to the Sun Salutations that are practiced regularly in Yoga sessions that focus on the flow of the poses rather than on each pose individually.
Use Yoga Blocks
For the first variation, you will need Yoga blocks to get started.
Place the blocks along your upper body area and grab it with your hands as you try to lift your back and legs.
This will help even out the weight distribution and make the backbend easier to hold for Yoga practitioners who have a stiff back.
Hold Your Palms in a Prayer
This pose variation can be a little bit challenging because it will put even more pressure on your back to remain still while removing the support from your arms.
This variation is a combination of the cobra pose and the upward facing dog. You may notice that in the cobra pose the legs are in the same position, but the upper body is more challenged in the upward facing dog.
Bring your arms back and make your palms meet in the middle of your back in a prayer position. Hold this variation for at least 3 breathes.
Use a Chair
If you want to give this pose a try but are not sure whether your back is going to thank you later for it, you can always use a chair to diminish the impact on your lower back.
Instead of placing your arms on a mat, place them on a chair while your legs touch the floor. This will still allow you to engage your back muscle, but in a more gentle manner.
Lift Your Ankle
If you want to deepen the pose, slightly lift your right or left ankle and hold the pose for a couple of breathes.
When you are done, start again with the other ankle.
Most mistakes in the upward facing dog are linked to the position of the legs as well as to how engaged the back, chest, and leg muscles are. Since we tend to make things a little bit more comfortable at times, we modify asanas without even knowing we are making it more comfortable for our bodies.
If you want to make sure you get the best from this pose, avoid the following mistakes.
Keeping Your Ankles on the Floor
Many beginners make the mistake of keeping the lower leg area on the floor when in fact only the feet and the arms should carry the burden of your body weight.
To fix this, release by bringing your core to the floor and your chest down, and try once again to lift your core and legs up while helping yourself maintain your balance with your arms.
Tilting Your Chest Forward
The chest area should be open but it should also be perpendicular with the floor. You should make your chest lean forward. Keep it up while you stretch your neck and gaze towards the ceiling.
Bring your shoulders blades up and down to increase your mobility, and push towards the mat. This will give you some extra strength to lift your chest up.
Shoulders near the Ears
Another common pitfall involves bringing your shoulders up to the level of your ears.
This will only put pressure on your lower back without helping you open your chest area and leaves you in a very uncomfortable position.
To fix this, roll your shoulder blades back and forth and bring your chest up while elongating your neck.
Body Weight Is Not Evenly Distributed
This happens often, especially when we tend to use our wrists more than our feet.
Since this is too much for your wrists to take, you immediately experience pain and discomfort in the wrist area.
To avoid injuries, make sure you use your feet when you are holding the upward facing dog. Ideally, the body weight would be evenly distributed across your wrists and feet.
Tips For Beginners
Many beginners are challenged by the upward facing pose and often experience lower back pain.
This is often caused by the fact that their upper back area is stiff and their lower back is now in charge of all the bending in the pose. In time, this can lead to pain.
The secret to this pose is to engage all parts of the spine. To do so, you should try open your thoracic vertebrae.
A modified version of the cobra pose can help you hold a perfect upward facing dog by opening the thoracic vertebrae.
Upward Dog Benefits
If you are consistent with your practice, you will experience many positive changes in your body, from improved posture to an increase in strength as well as a healthier respiratory system.
To give you an idea of how this pose can help, I have put together a few sections dedicated to some of ways the upward facing dog impacts our body and mind.
Stronger Wrists, Arms, and Spine
The most obvious physical benefit of this pose is the fact that it forces the body to use its muscles to hold the backbend.
Your body weight will be put mainly on your wrists, arms, and toes. This puts a lot of pressure on the muscles, and with a diet rich in protein, it can make a difference in our lean mass as well.
The spine is challenged too since you have to keep the back in a certain position for a few breaths.
One of the benefits of the upward facing dog on the spine is the fact that it helps you strengthen the upper and the lower back muscles, which keeps your spine straight. There are many more benefits listed here.
The upward facing dog not only challenges your chest, back, and leg area, but it also works as a gentle massage for your digestive system. And as we all know, massages in the stomach area help us relieve constipation.
On the flip side, if your digestive system is overactive, you should avoid poses that impact your lower belly.
Relief for the Respiratory System
There are two ways in which the upward facing dog helps your lungs oxygenate your body properly.
First, you have the physical aspect. You open your chest and stretch your upper back. By doing so, you are positively impacting the health of your lungs from each sides of your body.
But it does not end here.
The upward facing dog also impacts the heart chakra, which is responsible for the health of your respiratory system, among others.
So, if you are looking for a pose that will bring some relief to illnesses such as asthma or bronchitis, you can definitely count on the upward facing dog.
Opens the Ribcage
If you are looking to lose some weight yet you cannot convince yourself to go through long sessions of cardio due to your bad breathing, opening your ribcage may help.
Professional athletes use exercises that open the ribcage to ensure that more air is entering the body without actually forcing the lungs in the process.
By doing so, you can oxygenate your body cells properly and get a more controlled breathing technique as well as improve your stamina during your workouts.
The Upward Facing Dog and the Heart Chakra
There are many reasons why Yoga practitioners focus on chest opening asanas, but did you know that you can boost your self-esteem by practising the upward facing dog regularly?
The reason why it has an impact on your self love and the way your perceive others is because this pose impacts the heart chakra, the energetic point where your empathy and love lies.
If you feel that you cannot relate to most of the things others are sharing, or if you have any issues when it comes either loving yourself or being more forgiving toward others, you may have a weak heart chakra.
A weak heart chakra not only impacts the way your see yourself and others, but it also affects your immune system, circulatory system, and respiratory system.
So if you suffer either from a heart related disorder or respiratory disorder, the upward facing dog can help your, along with other poses that target the same problem.
When our heart chakra is weak, it is difficult for you to trust others, share who you are, and make friends. Instead, you hide in a state of bitterness.
On the flip side, a heart chakra that is too open can make you naive and delusional regarding the way you see yourself and the way your perceive the behaviors of others. You tend to ignore your own flaws and refuse to change, and you also give too much to people who do not deserve it.
When you are thinking about building your Yoga practice, start with how it impacts your energetic points and determine whether you fall on the weak or strong side of the spectrum.
The upward facing dog pose is not recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women, nor is it recommended to Yoga practitioners who suffer from back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, or chronic headaches.
The pose is not recommended after big meals or prolonged fasting periods either.
Did you benefit from this article? Did I miss anything? Any feedback or suggestions would be appreciated – please post in the comments and I will personally respond!
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