Yoga Tutorial: How to Do Upward-Facing Dog Pose
As you flow through vinyasas and Sun Salutations, there’s no Downward-Facing Dog without Upward-Facing Dog Pose. Despite being a basic yoga pose, Up Dog can easily be done incorrectly, especially if you need to keep up with your breath while you make your way from your Chaturangas to Downward Dogs in flow classes.
Upward-Facing Dog Pose or Urdhva Mukha Svanasana is quite a deep backbend done with the support of our hands. Therefore, it’s important to make sure you’re doing it right so that you don’t strain or hurt your lower back or wrists.
Upward-Facing Dog Pose Basics
Type: backbend, prone
Stretches: Chest, shoulders, spine, abdomen, hip flexors, quads
Strengthens: Wrists, arms, shoulders, legs
Gaze: If your neck feels comfortable, tilt your head back and gaze slightly up; if that is uncomfortable, look ahead of you.
Upward Dog is a beneficial pose for a healthy back and good posture. It builds upper body strength, opens the shoulders and chest, and gives inner organs more room counteracting the modern-day tendency to slouch or bend forward. The pose can also relieve sciatica pain.
How to Do Upward-Facing Dog Pose
- Lay face down with your feet hip-distance apart and the tops of your feet on the mat. (Scroll down to the Modifications and Variations section if you’re doing this pose during vinyasas or Sun Salutes)
- Place your palms on the mat by your waist with your fingers spread and pointing toward the front of the mat.
- As you inhale, press your hands and the tops of your feet into the mat as you move forward and up.
- Straighten your arms, engage your legs, and lift your torso and legs off the mat.
- Draw your shoulders back to open up your chest, and draw your shoulder blades down and together.
- Gaze forward, or tip your head back and look up.
- Transition into Downward Dog or stay in Upward Dog Pose for a few breaths.
Modifications and Variations
- You can also enter the pose from Chaturanga. Flip or roll over your toes while you move your torso forward and up and straighten your arms.
- If you feel too much pressure in your lower back, place your hands on blocks.
- Place a bolster or a rolled-up blanket under your thighs if you experience difficulty lifting your thighs off the mat.
- If Upward Dog feels too strenuous, you can do Cobra Pose instead.
- To make Upward-Facing Dog Pose a bit more challenging, lift one leg off the mat. You can then lift straight into Three-Legged Downward Dog Pose.
- Make sure your thighs and knees are lifted off the floor. Only your hands and the tops of your feet should be resting on the mat. It’s common to mix up Upward Dog, when your hips are off the mat and your arms are straight, and Cobra Pose, when your hips remain on the mat and your arms can be bent.
- Check back on your wrists, they should be directly under your shoulders. Having your hands too far in front of you can strain your lower back.
- Getting in Upward-Facing Dog Pose will require you to use your butt muscles. However, once you’re in the pose, either relax them completely or only slightly firm them. Avoid squeezing them too hard. Slightly engaged glutes will give them extra work and can help you lengthen your hip flexors, but if you feel compression in the lower back or that your thighs and knees are swaying to the sides, back off or engage your inner thighs to bring them back.
- Press through your fingers and sides of your hands instead of dumping your weight onto your wrists. This will feel uncomfortable at first, but it will strengthen your hands and prevent wrist pain.
- To avoid “turtle neck”, draw your shoulders away from your ears.
Contraindications and Risks
Skip the pose if you have a recent wrist, arm, shoulder, or back injury, carpal tunnel syndrome, or disc problems, as well as if you are in mid or later-term pregnancy.