Practicing Upward-Facing Dog.

Via on Dec 17, 2011

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

Reflections on Upward-Facing Dog
Rod Stryker’s Four Desire (4D) Virtual Book Club

Backbends are some of the most beautifully shaped and physically challenging poses. This week let’s find a way to move safely and effectively into Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, commonly known as upward-facing dog.

Rod mentions that those students that are new to yoga should “learn the principles of safe back bending before doing upward-facing dog.” 

I thought we could start exploring upward facing dog by practicing some simpler back bends like shalabhasana (locust pose) and bujangasana (cobra pose). If you are new to yoga and feel like these are challenging for you right now, then practice these for a while before doing upward facing dog. 

Sometimes we forget that how we shape our physical body in each asana is the expression of prana (life force/ energy) moving in the body. Our bodies act like a yantra, or tool to allow the posture, in this case a back bend “to transform the subtle patterns that obscure the light of our soul.” -Rod Stryker.

That may be a lot to expect if you’re new to yoga, and you may not feel that the first time you practice upward-dog or cobra.  What we aspire to reach is the vibration of the posture or the feeling you have after the pose, not the posture itself.

So let’s take a few steps towards opening the front of the torso. 

Dynamic Shalabhasana.
Start by laying on your belly. Have the feet slightly separated or comfortable for your body. Bring the hands to the sides, fingers pointing towards the feet. Engage the legs and feel the shins moving downward to find stability in the legs.

The buttocks will engage naturally, but try not to squeeze the buttocks, as it may aggravate the lumbar spine. Exhale completely and as you inhale feel the connection of the pelvis and your mat; lead from the heart as you lift the chest, shoulders and head from the ground.

As you exhale release back down resting the forehead on the ground. Keep moving with your breath in and out of this pose 4-6 times. If you want to hold the pose,  keep your legs down (as we are working towards cobra and up dog) and just take a few breaths in this pose. Notice the muscles that are working in the back. This pose helps to strengthen small muscles of the spine.

Dynamic Cobra.
Keep the body in the same position, and move the hand under the shoulders. Keep the tops of the feet grounded towards your mat and now feel the palms as another point of stability. Exhale, and as you inhale, press into the tops of the feet, shins and into the hands as you lead again from the heart, lifting the chest and head keeping the elbows bent and the pelvis on the mat. 

Often times we lift the chin first and our shoulders and neck suffer. Today, in this cobra,  think about the snake in relation to your spine. Take that imagery and feel that you are being guided smoothly up from the heart. Like the snake, your lower body stays firm and your chest and head lift with grace. The chin is the last thing that lifts, just slightly, so that that neck stays long.  Allow this pose to become more of an expression of the heart center than of the chin.

Move with your breaths a few times, and then hold the pose for 3-6 breaths. Start to become aware of the feelings that come up during the pose and after. Where do you feel energy? Where do you feel movement? Eventually you will feel more.  You will feel the growing feelings of courage, strength and optimism.

Upward-facing dog
Start in on your belly and place the hands a little more towards the ribcage. Find the downward movement  of hands and legs.  This is your base, your connection to the earth. With your inhale, lift up into upward-dog using the muscles of the back you felt were supporting you in the previous poses.

Encourage the legs to work a little harder, instead of just letting all the weight move into the hands or shoulders. Remember that as much as you press downward you want that movement to create the upward lift of the pose.

Again, feel the chest expand. The subtle patters that obscure the light of our soul will slowly start to move, allowing for more expression of that inner radiance that is inherent in us.

The practice of upward dog and backbends help us to notice the feelings we have around the space in our hearts.  Are these poses ones that we love and can’t wait to do, or would we rather leave the yoga room?

In any case, the book is preparing us for some of the deeper work of Part III “An Intention Formed in the Heart”. So let’s practice the physical postures that prepare the body and mind so that we may experience the more subtle practices of the heart.

In upward-facing dog or the variations above, where do you feel energy? Where do you feel movement? Do you sense the growing feelings of courage, strength and optimism? 

Next week we continue with Sankalpa…Chapter 8: The Science of Manifesting Intention.

Aloha,
Chanti

Learn more about Rod Stryker and ParaYoga at RodStryker.com
Read The Four Desires book review on Elephant Journal.
Read other discussions about The Four Desires
Instructions: How the book club works


About Chanti Tacoronte-Perez

As a traveler and painter Chanti has grounded her roots in the path of yoga wherever she has landed. Chanti began practicing Yoga during her first year in college & continued when she left for Hampshire College to complete her BA in Painting/Fine Arts and Special Education. From 2001-2004 she lived and worked in Havana, Cuba as the Hampshire College Cuba Program Coordinator where she studied Iyengar Yoga. Chanti has been studying and teaching yoga in the Tantric Hatha Linage since 2005 with her teacher Rod Stryker, founder of Para Yoga. He has taught her that everyone has the ability to know their destination and find that road to walk on. She has currently completed the Para Yoga Certification (level I) & her Restorative Yoga training with Judith Handson Lasater. Her study of Sacred Art and Yantra Painting merge her love of Yoga with her passion for painting and education. http://www.ohanashakti.com

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18 Responses to “Practicing Upward-Facing Dog.”

  1. [...] Reflections on Upward-Facing Dog Practicing Upward-Facing Dog. [...]

  2. Amy Whelan says:

    This is one of my most favorite poses. I feel the energy building in my lower spine, and then a gorgeous tingling floods the spinal column all the way up to my shoulders. One thing I have to be careful to do, however, is to not place too much weight on the heel of my hands. Rather, I extend my fingers and push down and out to spread the weight through the base of my fingers. This allows me to stay in this pose longer without doing damage to my wrists. This one is a good pose to get those wonderful endorphins flowing! Thanks, Chanti, for this format!

  3. Chanti says:

    Thanks Amy for adding those great tips for the wrists!
    Aloha,
    Chanti

  4. garuda65 says:

    Urdhva Mukha Svanasana has never been a go-to pose for me, perhaps because my S-I joint can easily get tweaked in it. However, one of the last times I taught it I was surprised, almost shocked, by what came out of my mouth. I was demonstrating the pose to a just beyond beginner group and when I opened my chest and started to look up I just ecstatically stated "wow, this feels great!" I don't ever really intend this to happen, since it's just a demo, but hey, you gotta take the prana where it comes/goes.

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  6. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    In love with this series.

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  7. missmiapark says:

    i love rod's version of this asana where we don't flip to the tops of our feet, but rather stay on the ball mounts. we go from downdog to updog to chaturanga to updog to downdog with the breath. this series of postures can be really challenging, but my back always feels safe in this transition.

    updog is not one of my fave poses, i prefer the gounding quality of cobra. when i do pracitice updog, i do feel strong, however. i fill my chest w/prana and feel uplifted as i transition into this backbend and this deep inhalation coming into the pose is exhilarating!

  8. Marc Fairgray says:

    When I consider practicing upward dog and some of it's benefits, what comes to mind is the change in a behaivoural pattern from protecting your heart in fear by drawing your chest inward, to an act of bravery where your heart is open and liberated from all fear and pain.

    • Chanti says:

      Lovely Marc,
      Thanks for sharing! Do you feel liberated from pain and fear when you practice in this way?
      Aloha,
      Chanti

      • Marc Fairgray says:

        Hi Chanti, to be honest the awareness of this came after reading your article and reflecting on some of the personal changes that have taken place from my practice. I am going to be very mindful about this while I'm in upward dog. Thank you so much for the opportunity to express myself about this, which also is liberating.

  9. Amy Whelan says:

    When I become mindful of my yoga practice (which unfortunately I do on automatic pilot) I find that my pain releases and the endorphins start flowing. That is, bar none, the best pain killer. I also like doing the poses slowly to get the most benefit.

  10. lauraplumb says:

    Oh I love that feature image! Thanks, Chanti ~ We love Rod, too!

  11. [...] encouraging students to understand the posture. This may take several sessions before I indicate urdvah munkah for example, that the body must touch the ground with the instep and the hands, knees being raised. [...]

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