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Urdhva Mukha Svanasana: Upward Facing Dog Pose


An opening posture for your shoulders and upper back, Upward Facing Dog, or Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (OORD-vah MOO-kah shvon-AHS-anna), is also a challenging backbend. While the general shape of the posture can be performed by many, achieving a sense of ease and spaciousness in the chest and shoulders, as well as the even curve in the spine, can take years of dedication and awareness. A great pose for relieving many lower back pain complaints, practicing this posture as part of a sequence, or on its own, is therapeutic to body and mind.

Philosophy + Origin

The Mahabharata tells a story about a loyal dog who accompanies Yudhishthira, one of the five Pandava brothers, to the gates of heaven. Lord Indra greets the pair at the gates, but tells Yudhishthira that the dog is not allowed into heaven. Upon hearing this, the brother argues for the sake of the dog, telling Lord Indra of its devotion and loyalty. Yudhishthira says that because the dog has been so loyal to him, he will return that loyalty. At this moment, the dog is revealed to be Dharma, and Yudhisthira and his loyal companion are welcomed joyously into heaven. When practicing Upward Facing Dog, remind yourself of the loyalty and dedication you have to your practice and showing up each day in your life. Persistence is always rewarded.

ADJUSTMENTS/MODIFICATIONS:

  • Place your hands on blocks to create more space in the body
  • Look straight ahead rather than lifting the gaze
  • Place a rolled blanket under the thighs for lift and support

CONTRAINDICATIONS AND CAUTIONS:

  • Back injury
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Pregnancy
  • Headache

TIPS:

One of the most difficult aspects of Urdhva Mukha Svanasana is learning to keep the shoulders comfortable. Focus on keeping the elbows close to the sides and rolling the shoulders down and back. As you do this, you should feel a broadening across your collarbones and a release of tension and effort from the shoulders. This can also be achieved by releasing the armpits downward and drawing the shoulder blades toward the tailbone. Modifying by placing the hands on blocks can help you feel these actions when properly learning the Upward Facing Dog.

STEP-BY-STEP:

  1. Start by lying on your stomach in the middle of your mat. Extend your legs behind you, with the tops of your feet flat on the mat. With your elbows bent at your sides, place your hands by your waist with your forearms making a ninety degree angle with the floor. Spread your fingers on the floor.
  2. Inhale while pressing into your palms, specifically at the heels of your palms and base of the thumbs. Lift your torso while straighten your arms. At the same time, elevate your legs off the ground a few inches with the thighs staying engaged. Be sure the creases of your elbows are facing the front of your mat.
  3. Bring your tailbone towards your pubic bone while drawing your pubic bone up toward the navel point. Allow your glutes to work without hardening or gripping.
  4. Draw your shoulder blades down as you elevate the top of your sternum to open your chest and shoulders. Keep your gaze forward, or if you can do it without neck strain, lift the gaze slightly as you tilt the top of your head back. Keep your neck in line with the spine so you don’t overextend. Keep your neck and throat soft and relaxed.
  5. Use this posture as part of your flow sequence or hold it for up to 30 seconds. To exit the posture, lower back to the floor or use an exhale to bring yourself back into Downward Facing Dog.

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PREPARATORY POSES:

  • Bhujangasana
  • Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

FOLLOW-UP POSES:

  • Natarajasana
  • Supta Virasana
  • Urdhva Dhanurasana
  • Virasana

SANSKRIT:

  • Urdhva = upward
  • Mukha = face
  • Svana = dog
  • Asana = pose

PHYSICAL BENEFITS:

  • Expands your chest and shoulders
  • Strengthens the musculature of your shoulder blades, hip flexors and core
  • Strengthens your lower back, arms and wrists
  • Relieves some lower back pain and discomfort
  • Opens muscles in the chest associated with breathing, making it therapeutic for asthma
  • Improves posture
  • Stimulates organs in the abdomen

ENERGETIC BENEFITS:

  • Relieves mild depression
  • Energizes body and mind

MANTRA:

“Om Namah Shivaya”

Often interpreted to mean “I honor the divinity within myself,” chanting this mantra mentally or aloud can help boost your confidence and self-esteem, giving you the mental capacity to continue showing up in your life and in your practice.

MUDRA: Surya Prana

Also known as the Vital Energy mudra, this hand gesture empowers body and mind and helps activate the internal fire. To practice, reach your arms out from the heart so that your hands are level with your eyes and ears. Turn the palms to face each other, elbows bent so that the upper arms are parallel with the floor.

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