Urdvah Mukha Svanasana
By Gwen Lawrence
Aside from downward dog, upward facing dog is one of the most widely known and recognized yoga poses. Usually upward dog is done during the Sun Salutation Series.’ Upward dog has several functions, benefits and therapeutic uses. It is the cousin to the Cobra pose and is considered one of the easiest of the back bending poses. It is also thought of as a pose of assessment. It is often held in pain with a lot of pressure in the low back.
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 your legs should be 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. You should look to see that your wrists are at a 90% angle and your elbows also create a 90% angle. Check that your elbows stay tight to your sides. From here, press down through the tops of the feet. The tops of all 10 toes should be pressing into the floor. There is a slight internal rotation of the legs (rolling the legs weight towards the pinky toe). Press the palms down and gently lift your body off the floor. The ONLY parts of your body touching the ground in updog are the tops of the feet and the whole hand. Keep energy through them and keep then strong. Once your arms are fully extended double check that your wrist joint is still under your shoulder, stacking the wrist, elbow and shoulder joints in one line. This positioning is critical and insures a safe less stressed lower back. The most common mistake in updog is having your hands too far out in front of you, not stacking the joints of the arm creating tremendous low back pressure.
It is very important here to press down through your hands and lift through the top of your head. Lengthening the neck and having the feeling of pushing down avoids the common mistake of “the turtle head” and the look of the head disappearing into the neck. While adjusting this you must also roll your shoulders back, should blades toward each other. Press your heart forward and up. 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. At the same time keep opening your chest (external rotation), getting the feeling like you were opening a child proof medicine bottle.
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
Consistent and determined practice of upward facing dog result in the following benefits:
*Strengthening of the spine, arms, and wrists
*Firms the buttocks
*Stimulates the organs of the abdomen
*Improves posture, by stretching anterior spine and strengthening posterior spine
*Stretches chest and lungs, shoulders and abdomen
*Helps to relieve depression, fatigue and pain of sciatica
*Opening chest space increases lung capacity therefore is therapeutic for asthma
For the lay person it is just what the doctor ordered. Poses like this are critical for a healthy back. Many of our daily postures and chores include the forward fold of the torso. When we are forward all day, at our desks, and driving for example for hours on end we over stretch our back muscles and weaken our abdominals. This is a huge reason for poor posture in epidemic proportion. 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.
For the athlete, this pose is great for a many reasons. First, sports of agility and speed often call for a supple flexible spine. A back that can be open in all directions is more efficient to make wide receiving plays on the football field, acrobatic plays in soccer and 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 pulled hamstring, or quad. Third, updog keeps the wrists strong and flexible which is the equation for power, and a strong stick play in hockey to a finessed shoot in basketball. Finally the ability the pose has to open the rib cage and increase the breathe capacity is very interesting to athletes who have to deal with aerobic sports of endurance. It will also help athletes who suffer from exercise induced asthma.
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 or are suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, late stages of pregnancy, have had serious back injury, or disk problems.
Have fun exploring this pose and learning about your body.