How to Do Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) in Yoga

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Upward facing dog

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also Known As: Upward dog, up dog, forward facing dog

Targets: Chest, shoulders, abdominals, triceps, forearms, low back

Equipment Needed: Yoga mat

Level: Intermediate

Upward facing dog, often shortened to "upward dog" or "up dog," helps to stretch the chest and abdominal muscles while strengthening the shoulders, triceps, forearms, and low back.

Upward facing dog is usually done as part of the sun salutation sequence of poses when you go through your vinyasa flow. The sequence typically moves from chaturanga to upward facing dog to downward facing dog. Like chaturanga, upward dog is often seen as a transitional posture. It's important, though, not to rush through it without taking time to establish the pose correctly. If you do, you won't get the most out of the movement. Also, over time, repetitive practice with bad alignment can lead to wear and tear (and injury) in the shoulders.

In its most full expression, upward dog is a backbend with the hips, thighs, and knees suspended off the ground, and only the palms and tops of the feet (and maybe the shins) supporting the body's weight. The palms should be aligned under the shoulders, the shoulder blades engaged and pulling the shoulders down and away from the ears, the chest open, and the eyes looking forward.

Benefits

This strong backbend helps stretch the abdominals, chest, and shoulders while strengthening the arms and the posterior chain of the body, particularly the spinal erectors that help with maintaining good posture. Most of us spend a lot of time sitting at a desk, with our shoulders rolled forward, neck tilted down, and generally slumped without much engagement of the abs or low back. This pose can help reset good posture and encourage proper alignment. Proper alignment and good posture can help reduce the incidence of low back pain. Plus, stretching and opening the chest and shoulders just feels good.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Move from chaturanga dandasana, exhaling as you lower yourself slowly toward the ground from a plank position. As your body approaches the ground, inhale to straighten your arms as you 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 your toes, it's fine to flip them one at a time. Don't bring your thighs to the floor during the transition if you can help it.
  2. Open your chest toward the ceiling as you straighten your arms. Your gaze will go up slightly, but it's not necessary to throw your head back.
  3. Keep your legs engaged and drop your hips toward the floor. The only things touching the floor are the palms of your hands and the tops of your feet. Push strongly into both.
  4. Keep your shoulders over your wrists and draw your shoulder blades down and toward your spine to create space between your shoulders and your ears.
  5. Exhale and roll back over your toes to plant the balls of your feet before lifting your hips to downward facing dog.

Common Mistakes

If you do sun salutations regularly, you'll move through upward facing dog many times. Pay attention to your form as you do.

Hunching Your Shoulders to Your Ears

It's easy to allow your shoulders and back to disengage during upward dog. You'll notice this when your neck collapses down between your shoulders, and your shoulders end up close to your ears. Work to actively draw your shoulder blades down and in toward your spine, pulling your shoulders away from your ears. This helps improve posture and proper alignment.

Disengaging Your Thighs

You want your entire body, from your feet to your neck, to be engaged during upward dog. This helps maintain proper alignment while protecting your lower back. If your legs are slouched into the ground, you're not maximizing the benefits of the pose. Hug your thighs together, press firmly through the tops of your feet and your palms, and actively lift your thighs away from the mat.

Craning Your Neck to Look Up

Your neck should remain comfortably aligned with your spine, creating a nice half-U curve from the base of your spine to your neck. If you're looking up at the ceiling, you're craning your neck too far. Look straight forward, so your ears are aligned with your shoulders.

Modifications and Variations

As with other yoga poses, you can always modify upward facing dog to make the posture more suitable for you.

Need a Modification?

When you are first learning the pose, it's okay 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 doing a version of cobra (which is fine, but it's a different pose).

To keep your shoulders from creeping up toward your ears, 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.

Up for a Challenge?

Slow down to check your alignment occasionally. It actually takes more strength and stamina to stay in the pose for a few breaths than to rush through it. Take the time to reestablish your good alignment habits by staying in upward facing dog longer than you normally would. 

For a variation, try rolling your 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.

Safety and Precautions

To help prevent stress on the shoulders and wrists, make sure your alignment is correct. Avoid this pose after the first trimester of pregnancy, and if you have a back or wrist injury or a condition, such as carpal tunnel, that weakens your wrists.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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