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A classic yoga pose, Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose) is an important part of the Surya Namaskar series. This powerful backbend opens your heart and lifts your head, while improving your posture—all physical movements that can combat feelings of depression and fatigue.
The pose requires you to put all of your weight on the palms of your hands and the tops of your feet; sinking down into your chest can put a strain on your lower back. Protect your wrists and lower back by aligning your wrists under your shoulders and pulling your shoulder blades back to open your chest. If your upper back is tight, your lower back may overcompensate, so it’s important to warm-up with poses like Baby Cobra Pose before Urdhva Mukha Svanasana.
Upward-Facing Dog basics
Sanskrit: Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (OORD-vah MOO-kah shvon-AHS-anna)
Pose type: Backbend
Why We Love It: “Up Dog is such an energizing pose,” says Tracy Middleton, Yoga Journal‘s brand director. “I used to rely too heavily on my back muscles to achieve this posture, but then a teacher reminded me to focus on staying active through my legs—pressing down with the tops of my feet and really lifting my thighs. My back was less arched but I gained more length in my spine.”
Become a member today to get access to Yoga Journal’s Pose Library, which blends expert insights from top teachers with video instruction, anatomy know-how, variations, and more for dozens of poses, including Upward-Facing Dog Pose. It’s a resource you’ll return to again and again.
As a posture-improving pose, Upward-Facing Dog strengthens your spine, arms, and wrists. It also stimulates the abdominal organs and stretches your chest, lungs, shoulders, and abdomen.
Upward-Facing Dog: Step-by-step instructions
- Begin on your belly with your feet hip-distance apart and your hands placed beside your lower ribs.
- Extend your legs and press down with all ten toenails to activate your quadriceps.
- Rotate your inner thighs to the ceiling while firming your outer ankles into your midline.
- Press down with your hands and feet.
- On an inhalation, straighten your arms and lift your legs.
- With your arms perpendicular to the floor, your feet anchored, and your legs active, draw your chest forward and up.
- Draw your shoulders back while rooting down with your hands.
- Make sure that the curve of your neck is a continuation of the curve of your mid and upper back.
- Hold for 5 breaths, then release.
As you press through the palms, draw your hips and chest slightly forward, toward the front of the mat. It brings expansion despite the strain of the pose.
Teaching Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
These cues will help protect your students from injury and help them have the best experience of the pose:
- Make sure your shoulders don’t creep up toward your ears. This happens when you rest your weight in your wrists, instead of pressing through your hands. By pressing through your hands, you’ll create the length necessary for this pose.
- When you lift your legs, actively press the tops of your feet into the mat to lift the kneecaps and, most importantly, awaken and engage the quads.
Variation: Knees-down Upward-Facing Dog
If you find lifting your legs challenging, practice this pose with your knees on the ground.