Improve Flexibility with Upward-Facing Dog Pose - Sweatbox

As a yoga practitioner, you may have come across the Upward Facing Dog Pose in your practice. This classic yoga pose, also known as Urdhva Mukha Svanasana in Sanskrit, is a rejuvenating and energising posture that is often included in various yoga sequences.

In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about the Upward Facing Dog Pose, including how to do it correctly, its anatomy, beginner tips, health benefits, variations, preparatory and counter poses, and much more.

How to Do the Upward Facing Dog Pose

Upward Facing Dog Pose, also known as Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, is one of the fundamental yoga postures in Vinyasa Flow Yoga. It’s often practised as part of the Sun Salutation sequence and is commonly used to transition from Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose) to Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana).

To practice the Upward Facing Dog Pose, begin by lying flat on your stomach with your legs extended behind you. Place your palms flat on the mat, slightly below your shoulders, and spread your fingers wide.

As you inhale, press your palms firmly into the mat, straighten your arms, and lift your torso and thighs off the ground. Keep your shoulder blades relaxed and away from your ears while engaging your core (your deep abdominal muscles and back muscles) and pushing your chest forward. Your gaze should be forward, and your neck should be in a neutral position.

Hold this pose for a few breaths, then slowly release back to the mat as you exhale.

Anatomy of the Upward-Facing Dog Pose

Understanding the anatomy of the Upward Facing Dog Pose can help you align your body correctly and prevent injuries. This pose primarily targets the muscles of the back, chest, and shoulders.

As you lift your torso off the mat, the erector spinal muscles in your back engage in extending your spine. The muscles in your chest, such as the pectoralis major and minor, are stretched and strengthened in this pose.

Additionally, the muscles in your shoulders, particularly the deltoids and trapezius, are activated to support the weight of your upper body.

Beginner Tips for Doing the Upward Facing Dog Pose

If you’re new to the Upward Facing Dog Pose, it’s important to approach it with care and patience. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind as you practice:

  • Warm-up: Before attempting the Upward Facing Dog Pose, it’s essential to warm up your body with a few rounds of Sun Salutations or other gentle stretches. This will prepare your muscles for the deeper backbend and prevent strain or injury.

  • Modify if needed: If you find lifting your thighs off the ground challenging or straightening your arms fully, you can modify the pose by keeping your knees on the mat. This variation, known as the Knees-down Upward-Facing Dog, allows you to focus on the upper body alignment while still enjoying the benefits of the pose.

  • Engage your core: To maintain stability and protect your lower back, engage your core muscles throughout the pose. Imagine drawing your belly button towards your spine and lengthening your tailbone towards your heels. This will help you create a strong foundation and prevent excessive pressure on your lower back.

Health Benefits of the Upward Facing Dog Pose

As in all poses within the Vinyasa Flow Yoga (click this to know more about the general benefits of Vinyasa Flow Yoga), the Upward Facing Dog Pose offers numerous health benefits for both the body and mind. Some of the key benefits include:

1) Spine Flexibility

When practised regularly, the Upward Facing Dog Pose helps improve spinal flexibility and counteracts the effects of sitting for long hours. The pose stretches the entire length of the spine, promoting a healthy range of motion and reducing the risk of back pain through better spinal alignment.

Chest and shoulder opening: As you lift your chest and roll your shoulders back in this pose, it opens up the front of your body. This helps improve posture, relieve tension in the chest and shoulders, and enhance breathing capacity.

2) Strengthening the Back and Shoulders

The Upward Facing Dog Pose engages the muscles of the back, including the erector spine, rhomboids, and trapezius. It also strengthens the muscles in the shoulders, such as the deltoids and rotator cuff muscles. Regular practice can help alleviate back and shoulder pain and improve overall upper-body strength.

3) Energizing and Invigorating

The Upward Facing Dog Pose is known for its energizing and invigorating effects on the body and mind. It stimulates the nervous system, increases blood flow, and boosts circulation, leaving you feeling refreshed and revitalized.

4) Burning Calories

Yoga can be an effective way to burn calories and contribute to weight loss. Regular yoga practice has been associated with maintaining a healthy weight and even losing weight over time. The number of calories burned during a yoga session can vary depending on factors such as the type of yoga, length, intensity, and individual characteristics. Learn more here about how many calories does yoga burn.

Upward Facing Dog Variations

The Upward Facing Dog Pose offers several variations that can cater to different levels of practitioners or address specific needs. Let’s explore some popular variations:

Knees-down Upward-Facing Dog

The Knees-down Upward-Facing Dog is an excellent modification for beginners or those with limited upper body strength. To practice this variation, start by lying flat on your stomach with your palms on the mat, slightly below your shoulders. Place your hands firmly on the mat, activate your deep abdominal and back muscles, and raise your upper body from the floor. However, keep your knees on the mat, providing additional support and stability.

Knees-down Upward-Facing Dog with Blankets

If you require extra support for your knees or find it uncomfortable to maintain the pose on a hard surface, you can use blankets or a folded yoga mat under your knees. This modification helps reduce pressure on the knee joints and allows you to focus on the upper body alignment without discomfort.

Upward-Facing Dog Pose on a Chair

For individuals with wrist or hand issues, the Upward-Facing Dog Pose on a chair is an excellent variation. Begin by sitting on a sturdy chair with your feet flat on the ground. Place your hands on the edge of the chair seat, fingers pointing forward. As you inhale, press your hands down and lift your chest, creating a gentle backbend. Maintain a neutral spine and engage your core throughout the pose.

Upward Facing Dog Pose Blocks Under Palm

If you struggle with wrist flexibility or experience discomfort in your wrists during the Upward Facing Dog Pose, using blocks under your palms can provide support and alleviate strain. Place two blocks at a height that allows your wrists to remain in a comfortable position. As you press your palms into the blocks, lift your chest and engage your core, maintaining proper alignment.

Preparatory and Counter Poses

To ensure a safe and well-rounded practice, it’s essential to incorporate preparatory and counter poses before and after the Upward Facing Dog Pose. Here are some poses that can enhance your experience and provide a balanced practice:

Preparatory Poses

1) Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)

Bhujangasana, also known as Cobra Pose, is a popular yoga asana that serves as a preparatory pose for Upward Facing Dog Pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana). Both poses share similarities in the upper body alignment, but the Cobra Pose is gentler and less intense than the Upward Facing Dog Pose.

Bhujangasana helps to open up the chest, shoulders, and upper back, improving spinal flexibility and strengthening the muscles along the spine. It also stretches the abdominal muscles, relieving tension and improving digestion.

2) Sphinx Pose (Salamba Bhujangasana)

Sphinx Pose helps to open the chest, stretch the spine, and strengthen the back muscles, making it an ideal pose to warm up and prepare the body for the Facing Dog Pose.

To transition from Sphinx Pose to Upward Facing Dog Pose, release the forearms and place your palms on the mat beside your waist. Push through your hands, straightening your arms and lifting your torso further off the ground.

Reposition your shoulders by rolling them in a backward and downward motion. Simultaneously, raise your chest by moving it forward and upward. Make sure to engage your leg muscles and firmly press the tops of your feet onto the mat.

3) Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)

Bridge Pose, or Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, is a preparatory pose that helps prepare the body for Upward Facing Dog Pose. Practising Bridge Pose regularly can improve spine flexibility, open the chest, and stretch the hip flexors. It also helps relieve stress and fatigue and stimulates the abdominal organs.

To practice Bridge Pose, lie flat on your back with your knees bent, feet hip-width apart and flat on the floor. Maintain your arms parallel to your body, palms downward.

As you inhale, press your feet and arms onto the floor and lift your hips off the ground. Roll your shoulders underneath you, interlacing your fingers if desired. Raise your chest upwards, maintaining a lengthened neck, while also bringing it closer to your chin.

Counter Poses

1) Downward Facing Dog Pose

Practising Downward Facing Dog Pose as a counter pose to the Upward Facing Dog Pose helps restore body balance and provides a well-rounded practice. It stretches, strengthens, and energizes the body, making it a valuable addition to any yoga sequence.

It offers several benefits when used as a counter pose for the Upward Facing Dog Pose. Firstly, Downward Facing Dog stretches and lengthens the entire posterior chain of the body, including the hamstrings, calves, and back muscles. It also relieves tension in the shoulders and neck, which can become tight during the Upward Facing Dog Pose.

Furthermore, Downward Facing Dog Pose helps to strengthen the upper body, particularly the arms and shoulders. It provides gentle traction to the spine, decompressing the vertebrae and relieving any compression or discomfort that may have occurred during the Upward Facing Dog Pose. This pose also encourages blood flow to the brain, promoting mental clarity and reducing fatigue.

2) Child’s Pose (Balasana)

Balasana allows the body to relax, release tension, and restore balance after the intense extension of the spine in Upward Facing Dog.

Child’s Pose gently stretches the lower back, hips, thighs, and ankles, providing a deep release for the spine. It provides relaxation, stress relief, and calmness. By folding forward, the abdominal muscles are gently compressed, aiding digestion and relieving tension in the area. This pose also helps to improve circulation, regulate blood pressure, and alleviate fatigue.

As a counter pose to Upward Facing Dog, Child’s Pose allows the spine to return to a neutral position after the intense backbend. Upward Facing Dog opens the chest, strengthens the arms and wrists, and stretches the abdomen, but it can also create compression in the lower back. Child’s Pose helps to lengthen and decompress the spine, relieving any discomfort and restoring equilibrium to the body.

What’s the Difference Between Cobra and Upward Dog?

The Cobra Pose and Upward Facing Dog Pose are often confused due to their similar appearance. While both poses are back back-bending yoga postures and offer similar benefits, there are some key differences between them:

  • Hand placement: In Cobra Pose, your palms are flat on the mat, slightly below your shoulders. In Upward Facing Dog Pose, your palms are fully grounded, and your wrists are in line with your shoulders.

  • Leg engagement: In Cobra Pose, your legs remain on the mat, with the tops of your feet pressing into the ground. In Upward Facing Dog Pose, your thighs and knees are lifted off the mat, engaging the muscles of your legs.

  • Height of the pose: Cobra Pose is a gentler backbend with a lower lift of the chest, while Upward Facing Dog Pose is a more intense backbend with a higher lift of the chest and thighs off the mat.

Is Upward-Facing Dog Safe?

While the Upward Facing Dog Pose offers numerous benefits, practising it with proper alignment and caution is essential to avoid strain or injury. Here are some tips to ensure that you can do the upward facing dog pose safely:

  • Warm-up: Always warm up your body before attempting the Upward Facing Dog Pose. This helps prepare your muscles and joints for the backbend and reduces the risk of injury.

  • Proper alignment: Pay attention to your alignment during the pose. Avoid sinking into your lower back or collapsing your shoulders. Engage your core, lengthen your spine, and keep your shoulders away from your ears.

  • Gradual progression: If you’re new to the pose, start with the modifications and gradually work your way up to the full expression of the pose.

  • Avoid if injured or pregnant: If you have any existing injuries, particularly in the wrists, shoulders, or back, or if you’re pregnant, it’s best to avoid or modify the Upward Facing Dog Pose. Seek advice from a certified yoga instructor or a healthcare expert for proper guidance.

Upward Facing Dog Pose as a Part of the Surya Namaskar Series

The Upward Facing Dog Pose holds a significant place in the Surya Namaskar, or Sun Salutation, series. Surya Namaskar is a dynamic sequence of yoga poses often practised as a complete exercise or as a warm-up at the beginning of a yoga session.

The Upward Facing Dog Pose is included in the sequence as it offers a powerful backbend and helps activate the entire body. When performed in the context of the Sun Salutation, it seamlessly flows with other poses, such as the Downward Facing Dog Pose, Plank Pose, and Chaturanga Dandasana, creating a harmonious and balanced practice.

Final Words

The Upward Facing Dog Pose is a beautiful and empowering yoga pose that brings numerous benefits to the body and mind. By practising this pose with proper alignment, mindfulness, and respect for your body’s limitations, you can enhance your flexibility, strengthen your back and shoulders, and experience a sense of rejuvenation.

If you’re ready to explore the benefits of the Upward Facing Dog Pose, join us for a yoga class at the best Singapore yoga studio, Sweatbox Yoga. Our experienced instructors will guide you through a safe and transformative practice, helping you refine your alignment and deepen your understanding of this empowering pose.

Don’t miss this opportunity to experience the beauty of the Upward Facing Dog Pose firsthand. Sign up for a class today!

About the Author​

Lynette is fully dedicated to the support and empowerment of the growing community of committed yoga students and teachers. As one of the Lead Instructors for Yoga Teacher Training, she is here to share tips on how to grow your profile as a yoga teacher or build a yoga business either physically or digitally.