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Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

Upward-Facing Dog, or Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, is a powerful backbend and heart-opener commonly included in Vinyasa and Ashtanga yoga practices. This pose is often performed as part of the Sun Salutation sequence, transitioning from Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose) and moving into Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Upward-Facing Dog energizes the body, stretches the chest and spine, and strengthens the arms and wrists.

Upward-Facing Dog

The name Urdhva Mukha Svanasana comes from the Sanskrit words "Urdhva," meaning "upward," "Mukha," meaning "face," and "Svana," meaning "dog." Together, they translate to "Upward-Facing Dog Pose," reflecting the posture of a dog stretching its front body upwards.


Urdhva Mukha Svanasana is pronounced as OORD-vah MOO-kah SVAH-nah-sa-na. Understanding the pronunciation helps to deepen your connection with the practice and its traditional roots.


Anatomy of Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

In Upward-Facing Dog, several muscle groups and joints work together to create a graceful and strong backbend:

  • Spine: Extends and creates a gentle backbend.

  • Chest and Shoulders: Open up, expanding the ribcage.

  • Arms and Wrists: Support the body's weight and stabilize the pose.

  • Legs and Glutes: Engage to lift the thighs and knees off the ground.

  • Core: Provides stability and balance to maintain the pose.


Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana): Steps and Instructions

Steps to Achieve Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

  1. Start in Plank Position: Begin in Plank Pose with your wrists directly under your shoulders.

  2. Lower Down: Transition into Chaturanga Dandasana by lowering your body halfway down, keeping your elbows close to your ribs.

  3. Lift Chest and Legs: On an inhale, press firmly through your hands, straighten your arms, and lift your chest upward. Simultaneously, roll over your toes so the tops of your feet are on the mat, and lift your thighs and knees off the ground.

  4. Open Chest: Broaden your collarbones and lift your sternum, allowing your shoulder blades to move down your back.

  5. Hold the Pose: Maintain the pose for a few breaths, ensuring your neck remains long and your gaze is slightly upward or straight ahead.

  6. Release: To exit the pose, exhale and gently lower your body back down, transitioning into a Downward-Facing Dog or Child's Pose for rest.

Upward-Facing Dog


When to Do It

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana is typically incorporated into yoga sequences during the Sun Salutations or as part of a Vinyasa flow. It’s best practiced after a thorough warm-up to prepare the spine and shoulders for the backend.


Preparatory Poses

Preparing your body with certain poses can help you perform Upward-Facing Dog more effectively. Some beneficial preparatory poses include:

  • Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)

  • Sphinx Pose (Salamba Bhujangasana)

  • Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)

  • Cat-Cow Pose (Marjaryasana-Bitilasana)

  • Child’s Pose (Balasana)

These poses help to open the chest, strengthen the back, and build the necessary flexibility and strength.


Follow-Up Poses

After practicing Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, it’s important to follow up with poses that neutralize the spine and provide counter-stretches. Recommended follow-up poses include:

  • Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

  • Child’s Pose (Balasana)

  • Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)

  • Supine Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)

These poses help to release tension and restore balance to the spine.


Chakra

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana is closely associated with the Heart Chakra (Anahata). Located at the center of the chest, the Heart Chakra is the energy center for love, compassion, and emotional balance. Practicing this pose helps to open and balance the Heart Chakra, fostering a sense of openness and emotional harmony.

Heart Chakra

Mantra for This Pose

A powerful mantra to accompany Urdhva Mukha Svanasana is "Om Mani Padme Hum." This mantra is believed to purify the mind and body, promoting a sense of peace and compassion.


Alignment Cues

To perform Urdhva Mukha Svanasana safely and effectively, pay attention to these alignment cues:

  • Wrists and Shoulders: Ensure your wrists are directly under your shoulders.

  • Elbows: Keep your elbows slightly bent to avoid hyperextension.

  • Shoulders and Ears: Draw your shoulders away from your ears to prevent tension.

  • Legs and Feet: Engage your legs and press the tops of your feet into the mat.

  • Core: Engage your core to support your lower back.


Duration of Hold

For beginners, holding Urdhva Mukha Svanasana for 3-5 breaths is a good start. As you become more comfortable with the pose, you can gradually increase the duration to 10-15 breaths. Always listen to your body and avoid overstraining.


Drishti

In Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, your gaze (Drishti) can be directed slightly upward or straight ahead, depending on your neck's comfort and flexibility. This helps to maintain focus and balance.


Physical & Spiritual Awareness

Physically, Urdhva Mukha Svanasana strengthens the back, arms, and wrists while opening the chest and stretching the spine. Spiritually, it encourages an open heart and mind, fostering feelings of compassion, love, and emotional release. The expansive nature of this pose can help cultivate a deeper connection with your inner self and the world around you.


Beginners’ Tips

  • Warm-Up Well: Ensure your body is adequately warmed up before attempting Urdhva Mukha Svanasana.

  • Use Props: Place yoga blocks under your hands if you struggle to lift fully.

  • Partial Lift: Start with a smaller lift, focusing on engaging your core and lifting your chest.

  • Focus on Breath: Maintain a steady, even breath to support the pose and reduce tension.


Who Should Not Do It

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana may not be suitable for everyone. Avoid this pose if you have:

  • Recent or chronic back injuries

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome

  • Wrist or shoulder issues

  • Pregnancy (particularly in the later stages)

Always consult with a healthcare professional or experienced yoga instructor before attempting if you have any concerns.


Who Should Do It

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana can be highly beneficial for:

  • Those looking to improve spinal flexibility and strength

  • Individuals wanting to open their chest and shoulders

  • Practitioners aiming to enhance their overall energy and vitality

  • Yogis seeking to balance their Heart Chakra


Benefits of Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

The benefits of practicing Urdhva Mukha Svanasana are extensive:

  • Strengthens Back and Spine: Builds strength in the back muscles and improves spinal flexibility.

  • Opens Chest and Shoulders: Enhances respiratory function and posture by opening the chest and stretching the shoulders.

  • Boosts Energy Levels: Invigorates the body and mind, helping to combat fatigue and stress.

  • Improves Circulation: Promotes blood flow throughout the body, enhancing overall vitality.

  • Enhances Mental Clarity: Opening the Heart Chakra fosters emotional balance and mental clarity.


Variations of Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

To keep your practice interesting and challenging, you can try these variations:

  1. One-Legged Upward-Facing Dog: Lift one leg towards the ceiling while maintaining the arch with the other leg grounded.

  2. Supported Upward-Facing Dog: Use a yoga wheel or block under your lower back for additional support.

  3. Wall Support: Practice near a wall for additional support and balance.


Modifications for Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

If the full pose is challenging, consider these modifications:

  • Cobra Pose: A gentler alternative that still offers many of the same benefits.

  • Yoga Blocks: Place blocks under your hands to elevate the ground, making it easier to lift into the pose.

  • Partial Lift: Focus on lifting your chest and keeping your legs on the ground.


Common Mistakes

Avoid these common mistakes to practice Urdhva Mukha Svanasana safely:

  • Splaying Elbows: Keep your elbows close to your ribs to avoid strain on your shoulders.

  • Collapsing Shoulders: Ensure your shoulders stay away from your ears.

  • Holding Breath: Maintain a steady and even breath throughout the pose.

  • Rushing the Lift: Take your time to lift into the pose gradually, avoiding sudden movements.


Safety and Precautions

  • Warm-Up: Always warm up your body before attempting this pose.

  • Listen to Your Body: If you feel any pain or discomfort, come out of the pose immediately.

  • Seek Guidance: Work with a certified yoga instructor, especially if you are new to this pose.


Additional Preparation Tips

Direction to Face

Face towards the front of your mat. This orientation helps maintain alignment and focus.


What to Wear

Wear comfortable, stretchy clothing that allows full range of motion. Avoid loose clothing that could get in the way.


Suitable Place and Essential Oil or Fragrance

Practice in a calm, quiet space. Enhance the ambiance with essential oils like lavender or sandalwood for a soothing effect.


Music for This Pose

Choose calming, instrumental music or nature sounds to help maintain a focused and relaxed state of mind.


Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, or Upward-Facing Dog, is more than just a physical pose—it's a journey towards openness, strength, and inner peace. By incorporating this pose into your practice, you can unlock numerous physical and spiritual benefits, enhancing your overall well-being. Remember to approach the pose with mindfulness, respect your body's limits, and enjoy the uplifting experience it offers.



Happy Yoga-ing!

Namaste!



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About the Author

Namaste! I'm Pooja Chauhan

RYT 200Hrs | Meditation Coach 

Diving deep into the realm of yoga to revive its original teachings to create a significant impact in preserving and sharing them with the world.

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