Yoga Pose 101: Upward Facing Dog aka Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

Daniel Scott
Yoga Pose 101: Upward Facing Dog aka Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

Pronounced ERD-vah MOO-kah shvon-AHS-anna urdhva = upward mukha = face svana = dog

Fun Fact: In the early years of automobile design, hood ornaments were originally used as external heat gauges to measure engine temperature. Given its prominent location, drivers could easily see if the car was running too hot and onlookers could easily tell what type of car was overheating. Urdhva Mukha has essentially the same function in a vinyasa class—if the yogi is running too hot, it’s usually the first pose to deteriorate.

Benefits

  • Improves posture (opens chest and upper back)
  • Strengthens spine, wrists, arms
  • Core release (tummy stretch)
  • Abdominal stimulation (move that wind)
  • Said to fight depression, fatigue, and asthma
  • Makes you look like a happy dog (or bored cat)

Contraindications/Cautions

  • Injured Back? This pose can put a lot of stress and tension on a tight your lower back.
  • Wrist Issues? Full extension into the arms can easily tweak your situation.
  • Pregnant? Dynamic stretch and movement while lying on your stomach isn’t a great idea.

Step by Step

from lying-face-down-on-your-belly-asana a.k.a. Prone Position

Body Positioning

  • Hands under shoulders (middle finger lined up w/ seam where sleeve meets shirt).
  • Toes untucked (tops of feet pressed against the mat)
  • Elbows drawn in to ribs (forearms may rest on floor)
  • Fingers pointing forward and spread wide.
  • Eyes gazing towards mat, nose touching floor, neck neutral
  1. Inhale: Press fully into hands (through palms with strong fingers) as if to slide chest slightly forward. Draw elbows in towards ribs, spread toes, and activate legs and lower back with gentle downward pressure through the tops of the feet.
  2. Exhale: Soften your game face and prepare, for it is about to get real.
  3. Beginning of Inhale: KEEPING YOUR CHIN LOW, straighten arms, lift torso up and legs a few inches off the floor on an inhalation. Keep thighs firm and slightly turned inward, triceps active with elbow creases facing forward. Pour weight firmly through hands and feet.
  4. Middle of Inhale: GAZE FORWARD BY SLIGHTLY LIFTING THE CHIN. Press tailbone toward pubis, lift pubis toward navel (dare I say scoop the tailbone forward?). Let the buttocks be firm, but don’t squeeze (translation: don’t be such a tight-ass).
  5. Top of Inhale: Shoulder blades slide inward and down the spine. Navel continues to draw in. Butt continues to relax. Feet continue to press as thighs maintain lift. Ribs expand sideways into arms. Fingers, palms, feet, and toes continue to root down.
  6. Exhale: Maintain shape, settle in, and check on that smile.
  7. Inhale: Raise chin by gently opening chest, fully draw shoulder heads down and back, and lengthen neck. Do all of this with intention, and DO NOT LET HEAD FLOP BACK.
  8. Exit the way you came in, keeping strength in the hands and feet until you’ve reached the next posture.

Modifications & Props

  • Hard to keep thighs lifted? Rest them on the mat or try using a prop (rolled up mat or blanket) for support.
  • Can’t fully extend arms? Don’t! Work towards your fullest extension. They will eventually open up over time.
  • Painful Wrists? Fold the front of your mat up once or twice, and place raised edge under palms. This reduces flexion and aids in pouring weight through fingers.

Beginner’s Tips

Let go of that silly, silly belief that you need to lift your chin. Let that be the icing on the cake. Think this pose more of a chest opener than backbend. Drawing the nose into the face helps to lengthen the neck and melt the shoulders away from the ears, creating more space to open up.

Oh, and BREATHE! Otherwise, you will die...which, if you think about it, kinda misses the point of all this stuff.

Deepen the Pose

Don’t rush. Patience ain’t just a virtue, it’s a learned skill.

Image Credit: BeyondDrishti.com