Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) - Up Dog Pose - Fitzabout

Urdhva mukha svanasana, also known as Upward Facing Dog, or Up Dog Pose, extends the back of the body to create a focused stretch of the front; starting from the core to chest.

This back-bending pose forms part of the Surya Namaskar and Vinyasa Flow sequence. Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) can be performed alone to strengthen your upper extremities, open your chest, and tone your extensors of the back.

This yoga pose rejuvenates your spine and is specially recommended for an individual suffering from a stiff back. The movement is good for individuals with lumbago, sciatica and those suffering from slipped or prolapsed discs of the spine. Due to chest expansion, your lungs gain elasticity. The blood circulates properly in your pelvic region and keeps it healthy.

Information

Know as:Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana, Up Dog Pose, Upward Facing Dog Pose, Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Sanskrit name:ऊर्ध्वमुखश्वानासन
IAST:Urdhva mukha śvānāsana
Pronunciation:OORD-vuh MOO- kuh shvan-AHS-uh-nuh
Level:Intermediate
Total time:15 to 30 seconds
Drishti:Forward;
Upward
Chakra:Vishuddha Chakra, Anahata Chakra, Manipura Chakra, Swadisthana Chakra, Muladhara Chakra
Focus:Chest, Back
Indications:Asthma
Counterposes:Adho Mukha Svanasana, Balasana, Uttanasana
Preparatory poses:Bhujangasana, Setu Bandhasana, Chataranga Dandasana
Follow-up poses:Downward Facing Dog Pose, Natarajasana, Urdhva Dhanurasana
Contraindications:Carpal tunnel syndrome, Back or neck injury, Pregnancy (after the first trimester), headache

Meaning + Origin

The Urdhva Mukha Svanasana is derived from the Sanskrit name which is made up of four words — Urdhva + Mukha + Svana + asana:

  1. Urdhva” = “upward”
  2. Mukha” = “face”
  3. Svana = “dog”
  4. asana” = “pose or posture”

Urdhva Mukha means “having the mouth upwards”. This yoga pose resembles a dog stretching itself with the head up in the air, hence its name Upward Facing Dog Pose.

A dog commonly seen in this pose reflects the humbleness, loyalty and love towards their owner. However, anatomically this stretching benefits the dogs immensely to reduce their pain and musculoskeletal problems.

The Mahabharata tells of a faithful dog who accompanies Yudhishthira, one of the five Pandava brothers, to the gate of heaven. Lord Indra welcomes the pair at the gate, but tells Yudhishthira that the dog is not allowed to go to heaven. Hearing this, the brother argues for the sake of the dog, revealing his devotion and loyalty to Lord Indra. Yudhishthira says that because the dog has been so loyal to him, he will also return that loyalty. At this time, the dog is revealed as Dharma, and Yudhishthira and his faithful companions are happily welcomed into heaven. While practicing an Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana), remind yourself of the loyalty and dedication you have to your practice and show each day in the life. Perseverance is always rewarded.

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Benefits of Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

  1. Physical Benefits:
    • Opens the chest, increasing lung capacity
    • Lengthens the spine and opens the abdominal cavity
    • Strengthens the legs, buttocks, torso, shoulders, arms, and wrists
    • Stretches the shoulders and back
    • Improves posture
    • Stimulates the digestive and lymphatic systems
  2. Mental Benefits:
    • Relieves mild depression and anxiety
    • Relieves stress
    • Creates focus
    • Energizes the mind

Step by step Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

  1. Lie on your stomach.
  2. Bend the arms and slide the palms backward until your lower arms are perpendicular to the floor. Inhale, lifting the shoulders up towards your ears and lengthening the sides of your body. Raise the shoulders away from the floor and bring your shoulder blades more onto your back, behind the heart. Draw the feet together, pointing straight back.
  3. Exhale, press the hands down, lengthen up through the sides of the body and pull the head of your arm bones backwards. Draw the shoulder blades safely onto the back and straighten the arms. Engage the muscles above the knees and raise the legs off the floor. Lengthen the tailbone down towards the feet. Evenly lengthen through both sides of the feet. Stretch your toes and press your toenails into the floor.
  4. Press the knuckles into the floor and pull the hands back toward the feet against the resistance of the floor. Slide the body and legs slightly between the hands. Lengthen the sides of the body from the waistline up to the armpit, and move the head of the arm bones even further back. Keeping the neck long, slide the sides of the throat back and curl the neck to look upwards. Actively push the knuckles and fingers down and engage the muscles of the arms. Make sure that the tops of the shoulders are flat along the base of the neck. To keep the back of your neck looking upward, keep your head long while rotating. Draw the lower end of your shoulder blade deep into your back and lift the heart forward and up.
  5. Stay in this posture for a few breaths, then slowly come back down to the floor.
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Anatomy Engaging, Synergizing and Activating Techniques

Each anatomical part contributes to the final posture. The steps below focus on individual areas, and note how each region affected distant parts.

For example, feel how straightening the elbows expands the back and puts more pressure on the top of the legs. Flex the feet and see the effect on the front part of the pelvis. Bend the shoulders back and look at the impact on the chest – how it opens and pulls the pelvis forward. This is a good exercise in any posture, as it emphasizes how yoga works the whole body and not just one area.

Step-1

  • Engage your erector spinae to extend your vertebral column.
  • Activate your gluteus maximus and medius to extend your hips and femurs.
  • Engage your mula bandha to contract your pubococcygeus and piriformis muscles and nutate your sacrum. This action aligns your sacrum and pelvis.
  • Your gluteus maximus will naturally turn your femurs outward.
  • Step-2 describes how to counter this tendency by contracting your tensor fascia lata and anterior fibers of your gluteus medius.
  • Attempt to draw your thighs together to activate your adductor magnus and synergize your gluteus maximus in extending your hips.

Step-2

  • Activate your quadriceps to extend your knees. As with Locust Pose, this has the added benefit of anteverting your pelvis from the action of your rectus femoris.
  • Engage your tensor fascia lata to synergize your quadriceps in extending your knees.
  • Your thighs tend to roll outward from the external rotational force of your gluteus maximus. Counteract this tendency by pressing the tops of your feet into the mat and attempting to drag them away from your midline.
  • It engages fibers of your tensor fascia lata and gluteus medius that internally rotate your femurs, bringing your kneecaps to face downward.

Step-3

  • Contract your gastrocnemius/soleus complex to plantar flex your ankles.
  • Counteract your tendency of the heels to roll outward by engaging your peroneus longus and brevis muscles at the sides of your lower legs to evert your feet. A cue for this is to activate your gluteus maximus and quadriceps while at the same time pressing the balls of your feet away from your pelvis.
  • Stabilize your ankles by engaging your tibialis posterior muscles to balance this eversion with an inversion moment.
  • Activate your hamstrings by attempting to lift your legs off the mat.
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Step-4

  • Contract your triceps to straighten your elbows.
  • Press your mounds at the base of your index fingers into the mat. This activates your pronators teres and quadratus.
  • Connect your hands and shoulders by externally rotating your humeri with your infraspinatus and teres minor muscles.
  • These three actions — externally rotating your humeri, extending your elbows, and pronating your forearms—produce a helical line of force through your elbows, stabilizing your arms and shoulders.

Step-5

Engage your rhomboids to draw your shoulder blades toward the midline and open the front of your chest. Maintain your scapulae in this adduced position to prepare for Step-6.

Step-6

  • Finally, expand your ribcage by contracting your pectoralis minor and serratus anterior.
  • In Step-5 you stabilized your shoulder blades with your rhomboids. Maintain this position and attempt to roll your shoulders forward while continuing to fix your scapulae toward the midline.
  • Attempting to roll your shoulders forward while your scapulae are constrained produces closed chain contraction of your pectoralis minor. It draws the origin of the muscle on your ribcage upward, expanding your chest.
  • Expand your chest outward from the sides to engage your serratus anterior. The cue for activating this muscle is to imagine pressing your arms outward against a door frame.

Contraindications

It’s always important to keep in mind when practicing Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) for the first time:

1. Avoid suffering from spondylosis

A deep stretch on the upper back, including the neck and head, may not be suitable for people with spondylitis. It is safe to walk slowly or seek guidance from an expert.

2. Anyone suffering from a slip disc

It is always safe to practice this mudra easily if someone is suffering from a slip disc or is better off under the guidance of an experienced teacher. In this posture, pressure on the lower back, upward facing dog, can do more damage when suffering from a slip disc.

3. Weak Elbow and Wrist

With practice comes strengthening of the elbow and wrist and in this pose the elbow and wrist are questioned. If one finds it difficult to balance the weight, it is better to go slow and with guidance or better support on the palms.

Co-founder Anjali Kumari - FITZABOUT

Written by Anjali Kumari. She is a certified yoga instructor, Diploma in Make up, Nails and Beauty, Diploma in Nutrition, Food, Science and Menu Planning. Anjali is the destination of choice for the latest updates, tips and resources in beauty, health and wellness, and all topics that mean the most to today’s woman. Whether it’s advice from a trusted expert or a DIY tutorial, she has it all. She is passionate and obsessive about science and how it can be applied in daily lifestyle. According to her, food is the best medicine and proper nutrition is the key to achieving good health and beauty. When she is not working, she likes to spend quality time with family and friends. She loves creating innovative, healthy recipes and healthy choices for foods to promote good health.