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.
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.
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.
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.
Learn more about Rod Stryker and ParaYoga at RodStryker.com
Read The Four Desires book review on Elephant Journal.
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