Upward Facing Dog or Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

Upward facing dog
Ben Goldstein

This pose strengthens the arms, wrists, and abdomen. Increases the flexibility of the back.

Upward facing dog is usually done as part of the sun salutation sequence of poses when you go through your vinyasa. Like chaturanga, it's often seen as a transitional posture. Students are apt to rush through it without taking time to establish the pose correctly. This means they are not getting the most out of this pose. Over time, repetitive practice with bad alignment can also lead to injury through wear and tear on the shoulders.

Type of pose: Backbend


  1. From chaturanga dandasana, inhale to straighten your arms and roll over your toes, changing your foot position from toes tucked under to resting on the tops of your feet. If you can't roll over the toes, it's fine to flip them one at a time. Do not bring your thighs to the floor during the transition if you can help it.
  2. Open your chest toward the ceiling. The gaze comes up slightly but it's not necessary to throw your head back.
  3. Keep your legs engaged and drop your hips toward the floor.
  4. The only things touching the floor are the palms of your hands and the tops of your feet. Push strongly into both.
  5. Make sure your shoulders stay over your wrists and that they are not hunched up near your ears.
  6. In a vinyasa sequence, all of this is done in the space of an inhalation. By the next exhale, you are rolling back over your toes and lifting your hips to downward facing dog.

Beginners' Tips

  • When you are first learning the pose, it's ok to bring your thighs to the floor while you turn the feet over. Just make sure that you re-engage the thighs to lift them off the floor afterward. If the thighs stay on the floor, you're really doing a version of cobra, which is fine, but it's a different pose.
  • The number one problem for beginners is letting your shoulders creep up toward your ears. To avoid this, bend your elbows, roll your shoulders back, and open your chest. Then straighten your arms and press strongly into your palms as you draw your shoulder blades down your back.
  • If you find yourself rushing through this pose, slow down to check your alignment occasionally.

Advanced Tips

  • It actually takes more strength and stamina to hang out in this pose for a few breaths than to rush through it. At the beginning of a practice session, take the time to reestablish your good alignment habits by staying in upward facing dog longer than you normally would. 
  • Try rolling the shoulders back one at a time or gently swinging from side to side. This is also a way to move into a side plank during your flow.
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