Pose of the Month: Upward Facing Dog

Urdvah Mukha Svanasana

Urdvah Mukha Svanasana

Aside from downward dog, upward facing dog is one of the most widely known and recognized yoga poses due to its numerous benefits and therapeutic uses. As cousin to the Cobra pose, it is considered one of the easiest of the back-bending poses and is usually performed during the Sun Salutation Series.

How to: Upward Facing Dog

Start by laying face down on your mat, legs should be long with a feeling of extension through the length of the toes and spread hips-width apart. Bend your elbows and place your palms flat to the ground, fingers spread, hands completely plugged into the floor and have your finger tips along side your chest.

Your wrist joints should be parallel to the front edge of the mat, with your wrists and elbows at a 90-degree angle. Elbows should stay tight to your sides.

From here, press down through the top of the feet; the top of all 10 toes should press into the floor. Press the palms down and gently lift your body off the floor. The ONLY parts of your body touching the ground should be the tops of the feet and the whole hand.

Once your arms are fully extended, double-check that your wrist joint is still under your shoulder-- aligning the wrist, elbow and shoulder joints together. (This positioning is critical and ensures a safe, less stressed lower back.) The most common mistake in this pose is having your hands too far out in front of you, creating tremendous low back pressure.

Safety First

It is very important to press down through your hands and lift through the top of your head during execution of the pose. Lengthening the neck and having the feeling of pushing down avoids the common "turtle head" mistake where the head seems to disappear into the neck.

Also roll your shoulders back, with shoulder blades facing toward each other. Never over-arch the back. (The action in the arms and legs collectively gives you this result.) Another point to remember is not to let your elbows bow or hyperextend. The bends in the elbows should face each other, remembering to open your chest.

To further relieve pressure on the low back, press your tailbone down with a tucking action. Look straight ahead--keeping a neutral neck to avoid compression on the neck and stiffening the throat.

Benefits of Upward Facing Dog

Shoulder Stand

Consistent and determined practice of upward facing dog can do the following:

  • Strengthen the spine, arms and wrists
  • Stimulate the organs of the abdomen
  • Improve posture, by stretching anterior spine and strengthening posterior spine
  • Stretch chest and lungs, shoulders and abdomen
  • Help to relieve depression, fatigue and pain of sciatica
  • Increase lung capacity to relieve the symptoms of asthma

Poses like this are critical for a healthy back, especially with so many of our daily postures and chores that induce the forward fold of the torso. When we are forward all day--whether sitting at our desks or driving for hours on end--we over-stretch our back muscles and weaken our abdominals.

Back-bending poses like updog counteract this growing problem. Once we are in better more lifted postures, it automatically puts our abdominal organs in a better functioning position. It is also a great pose to tone our arms and legs and open our hearts.

Athletes Guide to Upward Facing Dog

For the athlete, this pose is great for many reasons. First, sports of agility and speed often call for a supple and flexible spine. A back that can open in all directions is more efficient, whether it's plays on the football field, acrobatic plays in soccer or strong swings on the tennis court.

Second, upward dog stretches the quadriceps (front of the thigh) and the hip flexors (front of the hip). Balance between the front and back leg will keep the leg in harmony and lessen the risk of a pulled hamstring or quad.

Third, updog keeps the wrists strong and flexible--perfect for strong stick play in hockey or a finessed shot in basketball.

Finally, the ability the pose has to open the rib cage and increase the breathe capacity is advantageous to athletes who engage in aerobic sports of endurance. (Not to mention help athletes who suffer from exercise-induced asthma.)

Note: Although you should always consult your physician and research a properly-trained teacher before starting a yoga practice, there are a few instances where you should avoid this pose entirely if you:

  • have a history of and/or are suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome
  • are in the midst of a late stage pregnancy
  • have a serious back injury or disk problems

Have fun exploring this pose and learning about your body.

Gwen Lawrence has been a practicing fitness professional since 1990. Her current practice includes private massage and yoga training, yoga class instruction and sports yoga training. Gwen's unique combination of dance, massage and yoga training, coupled with her extensive knowledge of anatomy, nutrition and homeopathy, provide her clients and class participants with overwhelming benefits. Gwen is the yoga instructor for several New York Yankees baseball players, team yoga instructor for the New York Giants football team, the New York Redbulls soccer team and the Pace University baseball team. Visit her website at www.yogawithgwen.com .

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