Upward Facing Dog Pose, or Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, is a pose that I see being done incorrectly all the time. Most students in a yoga class combine Upward Facing Dog and Cobra, which puts too much compression in your lower back and can lead to problems.
This isn’t really the students’ fault though. Most teachers give the cue, “Now move to Upward Facing Dog or Cobra…” This gives the impression that it is the same pose, just two different names. They are very different poses, but a beginner might have a hard time seeing the difference, which only adds to the confusion.
It’s important to understand the difference of these two poses. Especially because Upward Dog is such a common pose. In a Vinyasa class, you will see this pose several times. If you are doing it wrong repeatedly, an injury is bound to happen.
In Cobra, your back muscles are engaged, so much so that you should be able to raise your hands off the ground. The tops of your thighs stay on the ground and your legs play an active role. Your arms may not straighten and that’s okay! Leave them bent rather than shrug your shoulders up to compensate.
How to do Upward Facing Dog
- start by lying on your stomach, with your arms bent, palms flat on the ground under your shoulders, elbows stay tight into your body and point upwards
- inhale as you press into your hands, raise your chest off the ground, continue to raise up until your arms are straight and the front of your thighs has lifted off the ground (see below for modifications), the only points of contact with the floor are your hands and feet (this is one of the biggest confusions with Cobra)
- pull the shoulder blades back, opening your chest, making sure not to shrug your shoulders up to your ears, you can look forward or up (don’t put a strain on your throat)
- hold for a few breaths
- exhale and lower slowly by bending your arms (keeping your elbows pulled in tight to your body)
Take a few minutes to watch me demonstrate the difference between Cobra and Upward Facing Dog.
Modifications for Upward Facing Dog
To modify this pose you can place yoga blocks under your palms (lowest setting). You can also place a rolled up blanket below your top thighs. Another variation of the pose that is more challenging is where you keep your toes tucked under.
Benefits of Upward Facing Dog
- stretches chest, shoulders, and abdomen
- strengthens back, arms, wrists
- benefits the kidneys
- therapeutic for asthma
- improves posture
- aligns the spines
- benefits the nervous system
Contraindications of Upward Facing Dog
- recent abdominal surgery
- injury of the back, hips, arms, or shoulders
- carpal tunnel syndrome
To take a closer look at an amazing hip opener, check out Mandukasana Yoga Pose: An Amazing Hip Opener. Like Upward Facing Dog it is also a great chest opener, in addition to being a hip opener.
Disclaimer: Not all exercise programs are suitable for everyone. Check with your doctor before beginning any fitness/health program to avoid/reduce the risk of injury. Perform these exercises at your own risk. Abby is not responsible or liable for any injury sustained as a result of using any fitness/health program presented or advice discussed on the Journeys of Yoga blog. Please see my full disclosure for more details.