Upward Facing Dog

upward facing dog – urdhva mukha svanasana

Upward facing dog (urdhva mukha svanasana) is generally entered from chaturanga dandasana and used as a transition to downward-facing dog.  It is a repetitive pose and is used in the vinyasa between individual poses.  Think of this pose as your gateway to backbends.  As is the case with every backbend, it’s not about just bending back.  Rather, it’s about lifting and extending to create space, and then bending back to facilitate movement into that space.

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Upward Facing Dog: Set Up

If entering from chaturanga dandasana, roll onto the tops of your feet and press into the ground to straighten your arms.  Engage your legs to lift your knees and thighs off of the floor.  

If you are not entering from chaturanga, start by lying face down on your belly.  Bend your elbows and bring the palms of the hands close to your low ribs with your fingers facing forward.  Ground your hands into the floor, especially the bases of your knuckles and the space between your index finger and thumb.  Press hands down further into the earth and straighten your arms.

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Upward Facing Dog: Alignment

Upper body

Spread your fingers wide and point your index fingers to the front of the room. Slightly rotate the arms so that the inner elbow points forward (external rotation).  Keep your elbows pressed alongside your body.  

Align your shoulders over your wrists and draw the tops of your shoulders away from your ears.  Draw your shoulder blades back and lift your heart forward without compressing the neck. 

Find height through the top of your sternum, keeping the front ribs drawn in to avoid compressing the low back.  Puff your side ribs forward, and keep your throat soft if your head is back.  

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Mid body

Pull your lower abdomen in toward your spine while engaging the pelvic floor muscles (mula bandha).  See if you can activate the muscles of your back without causing your spine to shorten.  Allow the engagement of your back muscles to create space in your spine, lifting and extending away from your waist.  Actively press your shoulder blades into your back.

Press your tailbone toward your pubic bone and your pubic bone toward your navel.  Narrow your hip points and firm (without over-clenching) your glutes.

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Lower body

Press into the tops of your feet.  Think about lengthening through the soles of your feet so that your energy extends outward, creating length throughout the entirety of your low body.  Engage your leg muscles, reach through your feet.  Firm your thighs and find a slight internal rotation.

To increase the strength and lift of this pose, push from the backs of your knees along the calves and out through your heels.  

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Upward Facing Dog: Benefits

Up dog is (in my opinion) an underrated pose that lends a big stretch for your chest and abdomen.  It strengthens your shoulders, arms, and wrists since you bear a significant amount of weight on your shoulders and arms in this asana.

Up dog also aids in improving organ function.  You are stretching from head to toe – stretching to this extent improves circulation of the entire body, leading to improved organ function.

Upward facing dog has been shown to increase the capacity of your lungs to hold oxygen for a longer period of time.  When the upper chest is expanded and taken slightly backward, the stretch of the muscles in the chest facilitates lungs with a higher volume capacity.  It is especially helpful for those suffering from asthma.

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Upward Facing Dog: Common Alignment Problems

It is difficult in this pose to keep the shoulders from climbing up near the ears.  Oftentimes this is due to not actively pressing the floor away from you with your hands, and instead letting your weight fall into your wrists.

Keeping the legs and kneecaps lifted off of the ground also present a problem.  If you feel your hips and knees sagging down to rest on the mat, further engage the legs and press into the tops of the feet.

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