Upward-Facing Dog stretches the chest and spine while strengthening the wrists, arms, and shoulders. Strengthening and opening the upper body and chest improves posture and can be therapeutic for asthma. Upward Dog creates suppleness in the back torso and abdomen, which stimulates the abdominal organs and improves digestion. It also firms the buttocks and thighs, helping to relieve sciatica. The backbend energizes and rejuvenates the body, providing relief from fatigue and mild depression.
Cautions to Look For:
Do not practice Upward-Facing Dog if you have carpal tunnel syndrome or a recent back or wrist injury. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
How to Practice Upward-Facing Dog Pose:
Begin by lying face-down on the floor with your legs extended behind you, spread a few inches apart. The tops of your feet should rest on the mat — do not tuck your toes, as this can crunch your spine.
Place your hands on the floor alongside your body, next to your lower ribs. Point your fingers to the top of the mat and hug your elbows in close to your ribcage.
Inhale as you press through your hands firmly into the floor. Straighten your arms, lifting your torso and your legs a few inches off the floor.
You can also enter the pose by starting in Plank, then lowering into Chaturanga or dropping your knees to the floor and allowing the upper torso to slowly and safely lower to ground using the strength of your upper body (pull in your core and keep it tight as you lower yourself down). From Chaturanga/Dropping Knees, draw your body forward by pressing through your palms and rolling over your toes or lifting the foot to place top-side of foot on floor. Align your shoulders directly over your wrists and straighten your arms.
Press down firmly through the tops of your feet. Strongly engage your leg muscles to keep your thighs lifted off the floor.
Keep your elbows pressed alongside your body. Drop your shoulders away from your ears and lift your chest toward the ceiling.
Draw your shoulders back and your heart forward, but do not crunch your neck. If your neck is flexible, tilt your head to gaze toward the sky. Otherwise, keep your head neutral and your gaze directly forward.
Your thighs should be firm and turned slightly inward. Your arms should also be firm, slightly turned so that each elbow crease faces forward.
Only straighten your arms as much as your body allows. Deepen the stretch as your practice advances but avoid straining to achieve a deeper backbend.
Actively press your shoulder blades into your upper back. Keep your elbows hugged in to your sides. Broaden across your collarbones and lift your heart. Glide the tops of your shoulders away from your ears. Distribute the length of the backbend evenly through your entire spine.
Hold the pose for up to 30 seconds. To release, exhale as you slowly lower your torso and forehead to the mat. Turn your head to the right, resting your left ear on the mat. Relax your arms alongside your body. Repeat the pose up to five times.
Those practicing Sun Salutations should move directly from Upward-Facing Dog into Downward-Facing Dog by lifting their hips and rolling over their toes to press the soles of their feet on the mat.
Modifications & Variations:
Upward-Facing Dog provides a deep stretch to the entire spine and front torso. Be careful not to force your body into the pose, seeking a deeper backbend. Instead, take it slowly and back off if you feel any pain or pinching sensations. Try these simple changes to modify the pose as needed:
If your feet and ankles are stiff, it might be difficult to roll over your toes from Chaturanga or into Downward-Facing Dog. Instead, let your thighs come to the floor. Then, turn your feet over one at a time.
If it is difficult to keep your legs lifted above your mat, roll a firm blanket and place it below your top thighs (or have a friend or teacher place the blanket there while you are in Plank Pose). When you move into Upward-Facing Dog, rest your thighs lightly on the roll.