How to do Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
There’s nothing worse than injuring yourself in your yoga practice. I’ve spent many years recovering from various yoga injuries that were always caused by my overzealousness. I used to push and force myself into poses just because everyone else was or I wanted to show off. The biggest challenges I’ve had in my yoga practice are not from learning the advanced poses, but rather learning to listen to my body and respecting it’s limits.
Upward facing dog is an intermediate yoga pose which requires a lot of strength as well as precise alignment to avoid injury. I’ve personally known someone who was unable to practice yoga again after a debilitating back injury from upward facing dog. During our Vinyasa practice, we may do this pose ten or more times, so it is important to get right.
I see many beginners pushing themselves into this pose, incorrectly, placing a lot of strain on the lower back or shoulders. The correct alignment is shown above.
Common mistakes I see are:
- Toes are curled under rather than being on the tops of the feet
- Knees are on the floor rather than lifting
- Crunching into the lower back
- Eyes of the elbows face forward rather than in
- Crunching the back of the neck
- Collapsing or jamming into the shoulders
- Shoulders are up near the ears
- Rolling onto the outside edges of the palms/lifting up through thumb and index finger
Starting from Cobra pose, press your hands into the floor, and slide your chest forward. Come onto the tops of your feet and lift the kneecaps while tucking the tailbone under. Lift the chest and press the mat away with your hands. Relax the shoulder blades down the back (away from the ears), press down through your knuckles, rotate your forearms in and lift the chest.
If this is too strong for you, keep your legs and hips on the floor in Cobra and keep the arms bent.
As beginners, it can be tempting to challenge ourselves and try a stronger variation of the pose, but this pose is one that requires upper body strength. If you attempt this pose without the requisite strength to support yourself, you may injure yourself, particularly if you straighten your arms and crunch into your back with your knees on the floor or your toes curled under.
Be patient and listen to your body, you’re not meant to feel pinching or pain in this pose.
Here’s a diagram of which muscles are working and which are stretching