Yoga Basics: Upward Facing Dog (Urdvha Muka Svanasana)

In today’s tutorial, you are going to get an in depth look at Upward Facing Dog.  In sanskrit this pose is called Urdvha Muka Svanasana. This is a basic yoga pose found in many “flow” type classes and can be quite a challenge if you have low back pain and your arms and core aren’t conditioned for it yet..   Believe it or not, this pose can actually cause injury to a person’s shoulder, wrist, and can exacerbate low back pain (I’ve seen it done before, when they weren’t listening to the cues you’ll find here).

You may be wondering why I am posting about such a “basic” pose, and including a video–that’s because as a yoga teacher, I see people practicing these basic poses incorrectly, dare I say dangerously all the time, and I want to make sure that you don’t make the same mistakes.  Plus, in today’s digital world, more and more people are practicing at home without the eye of a knowledgeable, trained instructor (oftentimes leading to really REALLY bad habits), so my hope is that I can share a bit of my knowledge with you so you won’t hurt yourself (1) and so you don’t create bad habits (2).

Let’s talk about one thing here.  I am an Ashtanga Yoga Teacher. All my major yoga trainings have been Ashtanga based, whether it was my 200 and 500 hour Teacher Training under a Baptiste Certified teacher, my Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Training under Donna Feiner, a level 2 authorized teacher, and most recently, under my current teacher, Manju Jois who authorized me to teach Ashtanga Yoga.  All my training follows this lineage, therefore all my cues, alignment proclivities, etc are derived from the Ashtanga Yoga Lineage.  Yoga is thousands of years old and has been taught by the oral traditional and with the teacher/student relationship. It is only this century where yoga books have popped up all over and in mass quantities.  

Yoga itself, wasn’t even really in the states themselves until the second half of the 19th century–so that means there is a LOT of information out there.  The information I share with you today is based off my experience, my training, and my lineage, which is Ashtanga Yoga as taught by Sri Pattahbi Jois, through his son Manju Pattahbi Jois.

In this tutorial, you will learn all about upward facing dog, or urdvha muka svanasana in sanskrit.  This is a basic yoga pose found in many different types of yoga classes and has many different ways you can practice.  Here, Jennifer talks about “best practices” you can do to help keep your back safe and pain free.

Very early in my yoga life, I was taught a LOT of bad stuff (at least for my body) and I had a LOT of terrible assists given to me in this pose –don’t anyone ever come up and pull my shoulders back when I’m in the pose!!  It took me MANY years to get FINALLY get this pose out-to figure out how to do this pose without causing any unnecessary stress to my low back (which has an injury) and to my wrists –which are frankly, holding up enough weight with just my body!! :)

As you work your way through this pose, know that the back bending doesn’t have to be that deep.  In fact, when my back is inflamed, you will barely see a bend in my back because my stomach is so engaged and my tailbone is lengthening down so much (that’s totally ok–there are no yoga police that will come bust down your door and fine you).  The bend will come over time as you start to relax through the upper body, allow the chest to open up and press through. We want the upper back to relax and stretch, not the lower back to take it all.

Also, and this is ESPECIALLY important if you tend towards wrist pain, don’t hang out in this pose.  Fact is, your shoulders are SUPPOSED to be over your wrists–HOWEVER, the truth is–depending on where you are in your practice, the upper body strength you currently have, and the mobility you have across the chest–more than likely your shoulders are in front of your wrists which is straight up 100% highway to the danger zone.  In fact, if I’m ever in a class with a teacher that holds upward facing dogs I just ignore the teacher and move straight to downward facing dog. Although I know the proper alignment, I’m not gonna stress out my wrists anymore than I need to and I’d much rather do chaturangas or work on arm balances than waste my poor little wrists on upward facing dog.  (that’s just my opinion though.)

Key points to remember when you’re practicing your Upward Facing Dog:

1) You are on the TOPS of your feet, which are hips width distance apart.

2) You are working towards lifting the thighs OFF the mat.

3) Press your hands (especially the thumb and pointer finger) into the mat

4) Your hands are shoulder’s width distance apart

5)Your arms are straight

6) Chest is pressing through the arms, proud, but don’t stick your ribs out.

7) Hold your shoulders down and away from the ears.

8) Try to squeeze the shoulder blades together

9) Chest is proud but don’t stick your ribs out.

10) Top of the head to the sky

11) Your belly is IN (A LOT)

12) Your tail bone is lengthening down

Remember, always keep your stomach muscles engaged and try not to tilt that tail bone out.  (this cue can reduce back pain) This pose isn’t one where you should stay too long because it is a LOT of pressure in the wrists and in the low back BUT, if you practice these safe cues, you will find that it is a MUCH more approachable pose that can even be enjoyed!.

Did you give it a try?  What did you think? Was it a little harder now that you took a minute to break every little thing down and focus on the muscles?  Keep practicing, it does get easier.

If you would like to learn more about Jennifer or if you would like to practice with Jennifer in person and you’re in the Chattanooga, TN area, come to Thrive Yoga and Wellness.  We offer almost 40 classes each week in a variety of modalities from beginners to advanced, to chair and seniors all the way to super physical HIT yoga.  It’s a great studio in the suburbs with ample parking and the community vibe even the folks at Cheers would be proud of. (How’s THAT for showing my age?!?!)

Or if you’re not in the area and still want to practice with me, you can totally do it for free, virtually.  I even have a free free 5 day HIT (High Intensity Training) Yoga challenge you can sign up to do and get 5 free HIT Yoga classes delivered straight to your inbox.  It’s a lot of fun and a lot of work. You’ll take your yoga skills and strength to a whole new level and be sore in the best possible way that you won’t want to stop on day 5!  I can’t wait to practice with you!

In the video, I was practicing on my still kicking Manduka Eko Mat. (that is an affiliate link, it doesn’t cost you a dime but it helps out a small business, so thank you!)  I wrote a blog post about this killer mat several months ago and if you’d like to check it out and why I love it so much, go here.
This post was written by Jennifer Dixon MBA ERYT 500 and Authorized Ashtanga Yoga Teacher.  She is the lead teacher in the Thrive Yoga and Wellness 200 hr Yoga For Every Body Teacher Training program: the Chattanooga area’s ONLY modular 200 hr Yoga Alliance approved Teacher Training program that allows you to train when YOUR schedule allows.  With two semesters each year and plenty of opportunity to practice and train year round, this is the BEST yoga teacher training program for busy folks.  Gone are the stresses about missed training weekends, you don’t have to worry about exhaustion and tears from super long intense weekend trainings every month–with the Thrive Yoga Teacher Training program, you train when your schedule allows and live your best life now.  Yoga Teacher Training should be fun, come practice with us and let us show you how!  Another great perk of training at Thrive? You get an unlimited membership to the studio for one full year while you train!  NO ONE ELSE offers this amazing deal (worth $1100!) and it’s the PERFECT way to get the training you want with the practice you need.  Our next semester starts in August of 2019! See you on the mat soon!