Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana aka the Upward Facing Dog Pose

Aug/15/2021 / by KT Hall
upward dog
Image credits: Mor Shani via Unsplash

While it might prove challenging for beginners, upward facing dog is an invigorating pose. This back-bending pose can help to stimulate your core and strengthen several muscle groups.

Exploring Upward Dog Yoga

Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana comes from the Sanskrit root words Urdhva (upward), Mukha (face), Svana (dog) and Asana (pose). Upward dog yoga is a powerful backbend pose and one that’s very popular especially for experienced yogis and yoginis. It does take time to help you build your strength so don’t give up but always practice this pose with an instructor.

An experienced yoga instructor can help to ensure you are using the correct techniques and don’t cause injury to your neck, back or legs. Despite being a challenging pose, upward dog offers several benefits like improving posture and overall fitness. Use this asana to awaken your upper body and as a warm-up before going into deeper backbends.

Cobra Pose Vs. Upward Dog

You might think that upward facing dog is similar to Bhujangasana (Cobra pose). However, the cobra pose starts out differently. With the cobra pose you’re starting out in a prone position and your feet are facing top-down. In this particular pose, your hands are under your shoulders and you have them spread slightly in front of your body. As you do this pose, you’ll keep your elbows near your body and will then start to lift your chest off the ground. Your pelvic region, feet and legs are pressed into the floor to give you power as you lift your arms up and start to pull away from the floor.

The difference though is with upward facing dog, your wrists and arms are absorbing the force and the weight of your body. Hence, you’re pulling your shoulders away from your ears and pulling them down near your tailbone. As you do this pose, for a deeper stretch try lifting your legs off of the ground and hold the pose as you inhale and exhale.

A big difference between the upward dog and the cobra pose is that you’ll find that with the upward-facing dog, your legs are off the ground. With the cobra pose, your lower ribs, legs and pelvis stay on the ground but it’s your elbows that are bent that can help to add length to your spine.

Benefits of the pose

Are you thinking about doing upward dog as a yoga posture? You will find that upward-facing dog has several benefits. It can help correct posture problems and spinal subluxations. It can open the chest cavity and collarbone region while expanding lung elasticity. It’s also helpful especially if your shoulders are rounded from sitting too much in a chair at work or school.

Because you are doing a deep stretch, upward-facing dog can stimulate your stomach muscles, relax the muscles and give a gentle massage to the abdominal organs. This can help them function more properly and aid in your digestion.

An added incentive is that the upward-facing dog yoga pose gives a deep stretch to the back muscles. Hence, it helps relieve back pain in the cervical and thoracic regions. It helps to resolve joint and muscle stiffness in the spine and areas where you may have contractions in the lumbar region of the spine.

Another area where you can become stronger from doing upward dog pose is that it gives strength to your arm muscles and wrists. That’s because you’re pressing into the palms of your wrist with your body’s weight. Strengthening your wrists in this manner can help minimize and stop stress injuries.

When you stretch your muscles in Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana, you will find that there are several muscle groups that you use at one time. This is a deep stretch that can help to remove any stiffness that your body might experience.

Areas, where you can alleviate stiffness, include the chest, shoulders, arms, stomach and legs. The upper and lower back also can receive a deep stretch. That’s because you’re doing a full-body stretch that can improve your posture. Upward dog can also help to firm your gluteus maximus, strengthen the spine and the arms and increase your back flexibility and range of motion.

Precautions

Often people will ask why with this pose is the dog facing upward? In this particular asana what you’ll notice is that with this advanced post. Upward dog is an area where you put the weight on your hands and you lift your legs off of your mat and your chest is reaching up towards the sky. Hence it’s a deep bend to the spine that is felt mostly in your lower back. Upward facing dog pose is a deep spine stretch that’s very popular especially as the dog wakes up from a long nap!

When you consider the upward facing dog benefits, it can alleviate stress and joint stiffness. Upward dog stretch can also reduce back pain. Additionally, upward facing dog yoga pose can enhance your routine especially before going into a downward-facing dog.

One of the reasons you may not want to Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana by yourself as a beginner is that it’s a complex pose that does take some time to learn. Always practice with an experienced yogi or yogini who can help you learn the proper technique. You want to build muscle and strength without injuring yourself.

People who do backbends in school like if they took gymnastics may find upward dog easy to do. You’ll also find it’s easy to do if you’re already flexible and used to doing a lot of stretching or cartwheels. This asana is part of the Sun Salutation sequence with Ashtanga and Vinyasa classes. You’ll find that it has a sister pose which is Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward-facing dog).

FAQs

What is Upward Dog Good For?

Upward dog can correct posture problems and open the chest cavity and expand lung elasticity. It can correct rounded shoulders and even aid in digestion. That’s because it stimulates the stomach muscles and massages the abdominal organs.

What’s the Difference Between Cobra and Upward Dog?

With cobra pose, you’re prone and your feet are facing top-down. Your hands are under your shoulders and spread slightly in front of you. With upward facing dog, your wrists and arms absorb the force and the weight of your body. Another difference is with upward-facing dog, your legs aren’t on the ground. With cobra, your lower ribs, legs and pelvis are on the floor but your elbows are bent to help lengthen your spine.

What Muscles Does Upward Dog Stretch?

Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana expands the chest and stretches the shoulders, arms, upper and lower back, stomach and legs. It’s one of the best full-body stretches that can improve your posture, firm your gluteus maximus, strengthen the spine and increase your range of motion.

Is Upward Facing Dog a Backbend Pose?

Yes, it’s a backbend pose and very popular with yogis and yoginis. While it takes time to master, it’s a full-body stretch that’s a good warm-up before going into deeper backbends.

Why is the Dog Facing Upward?

With this pose, you’re putting your weight on your hands as you lift your legs off the ground and reach your chest up towards the sky. Hence it helps to picture a dog that’s doing a deep stretch to its spine. Hence, this full stretch is commonly used in a lot of yoga routines.

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