Upward Facing Dog Pose

Upward-Facing Dog Pose — Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (OORD-vuh MOO-kuh shvan-AHS-uh-nuh) — is a back-bending yoga posture that lengthens and strengthens the spine, torso, and arms. Its name comes from four Sanskrit words: "Urdhva" — meaning "upward", "Mukha" — meaning "face", "Svana" — meaning "dog" and "Asana" — meaning "pose".

Upward-Facing Dog (also sometimes called "Upward Dog" or just "Up Dog") is an important part of Sun Salutations, and is often practiced many times during Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Power Yoga classes. It can be used as a strength-builder and also as a step toward deeper backbends.

Benefits of Upward Facing Dog Pose

Upward-Facing Dog stretches the chest and spine, while strengthening the wrists, arms, and shoulders. By strengthening and opening the upper body and chest, it improves posture and can be therapeutic for asthma. Upward Dog creates suppleness in the back torso and abdomen, which stimulates the abdominal organs and improves digestion. It also firms the buttocks and thighs, helping to relieve sciatica. The backbend energizes and rejuvenates the body, providing relief from fatigue and mild depression.

Do not practice Upward-Facing Dog if you have carpal tunnel syndrome, or a recent back or wrist injury. Women who are pregnant should also avoid practicing this pose after the first trimester, as it can create too much strain on the round ligaments and lower back. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.

How to Do Upward Facing Dog Pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

  1. Begin by lying face-down on the floor with your legs extended behind you, spread a few inches apart. The tops of your feet should rest on the mat — do not tuck your toes, as this can crunch your spine.
  2. Place your hands on the floor alongside your body, next to your lower ribs. Point your fingers to the top of the mat and hug your elbows in close to your ribcage.
  3. Inhale as you press through your hands firmly into the floor. Straighten your arms, lifting your torso and your legs a few inches off the floor. You can also enter the pose by starting in Plank, then lowering into Chaturanga. From Chaturanga Dandasana, draw your body forward by pressing through your palms and rolling over your toes. Align your shoulders directly over your wrists and straighten your arms.
  4. Press down firmly through the tops of your feet. Strongly engage your leg muscles to keep your thighs lifted off the floor.
  5. Keep your elbows pressed alongside your body. Drop your shoulders away from your ears and lift your chest toward the ceiling.
  6. Draw your shoulders back and your heart forward, but do not crunch your neck. If your neck is flexible, tilt your head to gaze toward the sky. Otherwise, keep your head neutral and your gaze directly forward.
  7. Your thighs should be firm and turned slightly inward. Your arms should also be firm, slightly turned so that each elbow crease faces forward.
  8. Only straighten your arms as much as your body allows. Deepen the stretch as your practice advances, but avoid straining to achieve a deeper backbend.
  9. Actively press your shoulder blades into your upper back. Keep your elbows hugged in to your sides. Broaden across your collarbones and lift your heart. Glide the tops of your shoulders away from your ears. Distribute the length of the backbend evenly through your entire spine.
  10. Hold the pose for up to 30 seconds. To release, exhale as you slowly lower your torso and forehead to the mat. Turn your head to the right, resting your left ear on the mat. Relax your arms alongside your body.
  11. Repeat the pose up to five times. Those practicing Sun Salutations should move directly from Upward-Facing Dog into Downward-Facing Dog by lifting their hips and rolling over their toes to press the soles of their feet on the mat.

Upward-Facing Dog can benefit the whole body, when done correctly. Actively draw your shoulders away from the ears — do not hunch in the pose or collapse into your shoulders. Instead, glide your shoulder blades down toward your tailbone, drawing your side ribs forward. Broaden across your collarbones, press the tops of your shoulders away from your ears, and then lift through your sternum.

Keep your buttocks firm, but not hard. Instead, actively engage the muscles of your abdomen and back to lengthen and lift through the pose, while also supporting your low back. Press firmly down through the tops of your feet, pushing from the backs of your knees all the way through your heels. This will help lighten the pose. As you press through your feet, lift your sternum up and forward.

Upward Facing Dog Pose for Beginners

Upward-Facing Dog provides a deep stretch to the entire spine and front torso. Be careful not to force your body into the pose, seeking a deeper backbend. Instead, take it slowly and back off if you feel any pain or pinching sensations. Try these simple changes to modify the pose as needed:

  1. When you are first learning the pose, it’s ok to bring your thighs to the floor while you turn the feet over. Just make sure that you reengage the thighs to left them off the floor afterwards. If the thighs stay on the floor, you’re really doing a verision of Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana), which is fine, but it’s a different pose.
  2. The number one problem for beginners is letting your shoulders creep up toward your ears. To avoid this, bend your elbows, roll your shoulders back, and open your chest. Then straighten your arms and press strongly into your palms as you draw your shoulder blades down your back.
  3. If you find yourself rushing through this pose, slow down to check your alignment occasionally.

Upward Facing Dog Pose for Advanced

Upward Facing Dog opens the chest and strengthens the whole body. It also aligns the spine and stimulates the kidneys and the central nervous system. To get a variation, tuck the toes under to lift the legs higher off the floor. You can build a sequence using one or more of the following postures: Downward Dog, Child, Plank, Locust, and Half Bow Pose (Ardha Dhanurasana).

  1. To increase the strength and lightness of this pose, push from the backs of your knees along the calves and out through the heels. The tops of your feet will press more firmly against the floor; as they do, lift the top sternum up and forward.
  2. It actually takes more strength and stamina to hang out in this pose for a few breaths than to rush through it. At the beginning of a practice session, take the time to reestablish your good alignment habits by staying in upward facing dog longer than you normally would.
  3. Try rolling the shoulders back one at a time or gently swinging from side to side. This is also a way to move into a Side Plank during your flow.

A Doggone Good Stretch

Practicing Upward-Facing Dog will lengthen and strengthen your entire body. You can use it as a backbend on its own, or as a transition to even deeper backbends. Try a few rounds of Upward-Facing Dog into Downward-Facing Dog throughout your day to energize and rejuvenate your body, and calm your mind. You might discover benefits of the pose that exist even off the mat!