PREVIOUS STEP IN YOGAPEDIA 3 Ways to Prep for Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
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Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Urdhva = Upward · Mudha = Face · Vana = Dog · Asana = Pose
Upward-Facing Dog Pose
Energizes the front line of your body; lifts your spirits; strengthens your hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, upper back, abdominals, hip flexors, and quadriceps.
Begin in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), which is a counterpose to Urdhva Mukha Svanasana. Keep the front of your body long and your chest lifted. Move the tops of your thighs back, firming the fronts of your legs. Avoid gripping the front of your ribs (pulling them toward one another and toward your pelvis) which will flex your spine. Keep your head in line with your spine.
Move forward into Plank Pose by reaching through the crown of your head without rounding your back or moving through a wave. Instead, maintain a line from the crown of your head to your sitting bones, as though a thread is pulling you forward while your heels resist back. Keep your legs firm and straight.
Reaching farther forward through the crown of your head, begin to draw your chest forward through your arms. Roll your shoulders open and pull them down your back as you move the sides of your waist forward. Imagine that you’re drawing a ping-pong ball deep into your lower abdomen from just above your pubic bone, which will help support your lumbar spine.
Stretch back through your toes as though pushing the floor away from you. This is a good place to stop if your back has reached its end range of motion, which may present as a pinching sensation in your lower back or a hyperextension of your wrists. Put your knees down if you need to take stress off your back.
Roll over your toes while your hips are low (or put your knees down, point your toes, and then straighten your knees again). Press your outer ankles in to avoid sickling your feet. Move your chest forward as though it were lifted by a wind at your back—with your legs tethering your upper body like the string of a mighty kite.
Press down through your hands while lifting the front of your chest, being careful not to press so much that you start to round your upper back, nor so little that you sag between your shoulders. Take the bottom of your shoulder blades straight down as in Dandasana, pressing your hands away from one other against the resistance of the mat. These actions will help you open and lift your chest with ease. Try focusing on pressing your index fingers and thumbs down to help lift the front of your chest.
Keep your head level and your gaze straight ahead, until you know how to look up without collapsing your shoulders and lower back. Eventually, you can lift your face to the sky, creating a full stretch of your front body from your toes to your chin. Meanwhile, this is a safe and elegant way to enjoy the pose. Stay here for 5–20 slow breaths.
To come out, reverse this sequence, rolling over your toes while your hips are low (or putting your knees down and flexing your feet). Release your back in a long Adho Mukha Svanasana.
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, variation
For a longer exploration of this pose with less effort but many of the same benefits, practice it with your lower thighs on a bolster (to support your hips) and your hands on blocks (to lessen the backbend)—you may need more height for the blocks if you’re using a larger bolster. Start by kneeling behind the bolster, placing your palms on the blocks. Move into Plank Pose, and reach your chest forward between your arms. Rest your legs on the bolster, either rolling over your toes or turning your feet over (once your legs are resting). Externally rotate your shoulders while internally rotating your lower arms. Explore pressing your hands away from each other as you take the bottom tips of your shoulders straight down (as in Dandasana) to broaden and lift your chest.
See also Challenge Pose: Hanumanasana
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana can strain your lower back due to tightness or lack of support from the front of your body. If you feel any strain in your back, modify the pose with props—or by bending your knees to decrease the backbend. Another helpful modification is to rest with your legs down and your forearms on a small bolster so the backbend is gentler. This way, you can still experience the actions of your legs, lower abdomen, upper back, and shoulders, but with less effort and range of motion.
See also Poses for Your Pelvis
About Our Pro
Alison West is the director of Yoga Union and the Yoga Union Backcare & Scoliosis Center in New York City where she leads yoga teacher trainings, a Backcare and Scoliosis Certification Program, and a Slings and Ropes Certification Program. She also holds a PhD in art history from New York University. Transitioning from sculpture to the human form has led her to 35 years of practice and teaching. Learn more at yogaunion.com.