Want to learn more about Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, aka Upward Facing Dog Pose? In this post, I share the benefits of Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, a complete pose breakdown, contraindications, modifications and more.
When I first started practicing yoga, Upward Facing Dog rarely made an appearance in the classes I went to. My teachers focused more on Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose). I’m not a natural back bender and I found it quite intense to start off a class with a Cobra Pose early in the sequence. Because it was too intense, I also found it wasn’t helping me deepen my back bend.
It was my teacher Darren Rhodes who recommended teaching Up Dog to students before exploring Bhujangasana with them, as the back bend is actually less intense Up Dog. This can make the pose more accessible to newer or stiffer students.
That’s why, if you take class with me online and we’re doing Surya Namaskar A or B, you’ll usually find me instructing Urdhva Mukha Svanasana instead of the more common Bhujangasana in these sequences.
If you want to know more about the benefits of Up Dog, plus tips on how to practice, or teach, this pose, read on…
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Urdhva Mukha Svanasana Quick Facts
|Sanskrit||Urdhva Mukha Svanasana|
|English||Upward Facing Dog Pose / Up Dog|
|Pronunciation||urd-vah MOO-kah schwah-NAHS-uh-nuh|
|Meaning||Urdhva means upward or lifted. |
Mukha means face.
Svana (pronounced schwana) means dog.
You probably already know that asana means pose or posture.
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana is one of those rare poses where the name in Sanskrit is exactly the same as what we call it in English.
It literally translates as Upward Facing Dog Pose.
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana Benefits
Note: I only include the scientifically supported benefits of Upward Facing Dog here. Plenty of claims about other supposed benefits (from the plausible to the magical to the ridiculous) have been made. To me, pseudo-scientific claims only serve to harm the yoga community, so I choose not to give them airtime here.
The main physical benefits of Urdhva Mukha Svanasana include:
- Opens and stretches chest (pectoralis major muscle).
- Strengthens triceps.
- Stretches abdomen.
- Strengthens posterior deltoid and stretches anterior deltoid.
- Strengthens back muscles, particularly the erector spinae, which take your spine into a back bend. Also strengthens the trapezius and rhomboids.
- Strengthens quads, which straighten your knee joints.
- Stretches the front of your ankles.
- Strengthens hip extensors (gluteus maximus and hamstrings).
- Strengthens adductors (inner thighs).
- Stretches wrist flexors and strengthens wrist extensors.
- When performed with alignment, it can help alleviate sciatica pain.
If you want more, see our complete guide to the benefits of yoga, which includes a history of yoga plus the origins of our modern yoga practice and much more.
Precautions & Contraindications
Remember that while yoga is for everyone, not all poses are for all people!
If your body requires some extra support in this pose, see the Modifications section below for ideas on how to do this pose safely.
- If you have a neck injury, it is usually best to look straight ahead instead of looking up in the pose.
- If you have scoliosis, this pose can be difficult or painful.
- If you have fused vertebrae or disc injury (such as a slipped disc), proceed with caution.
- If you are in your late second or third trimester of pregnancy, you may wish to support your hips with yoga bolsters.
- Students with wrist injuries may wish to use a yoga wedge to limit wrist extension.
- If you have spondylitis, proceed carefully. If you feel pain, take a break.
- Shoulder or arm injuries may make this pose painful or difficult.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome can be exacerbated by this pose.
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana Pose Breakdown
How to do Urdhva Mukha Svanasana / Upward Facing Dog Pose
- Start in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog Pose).
- Shift forward into Phalakasana (Plank Pose). Bend your elbows into Chaturanga Dandasana. If you cannot hold Chaturanga Dandasana, bring your knees to the ground.
- Place the tops of your feet flat on the ground. You can flip them over one at a time, or pull back with your hands and roll over your toe tips until the tops of your feet are on your mat.
- Pull back with your hands and pull your torso forward. You will likely slide forward along the tops of your feet a bit.
- If you brought your knees to the ground, bring them off the ground now. Straighten your arms and legs. Only the tops of your feet and your hands will be on the ground at this point.
- Look forward. Lift through your torso and move your shoulders down away from your ears.
- Move the top of your arms back into your shoulder joint and stretch across the front of your chest.
- Push down through your feet and all of your toes. Stretch your feet straight back behind you.
- Tone the pelvic floor (Mula Bandha), tone your belly (transverse abdominus) and engage your butt.
- Lift through your sternum (breast bone) and flex your erector spinae muscles (the muscles that run up the sides of your spine).
- Look up, but keep lengthening through the back of your neck.
- Push down through all of your toes and push down through your hands. This is Urdhva Mukha Svanasana.
- To come out, tuck your toes (or roll back over your toes) and push up and back into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog).
- Balasana (Child’s Pose) or Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog) are good counter poses to do after working on Upward Facing Dog Pose.
Modifications & Variations
If you are pregnant:
- If you are in your late second or your third trimester, you can place a yoga bolster horizontally across your mat, under your hips/upper thighs. Place a second bolster lengthways along the middle of your mat to support your upper thighs and legs. This gives you extra height to make sure your belly is not pushing into the floor.
- You may also want yoga blocks under your hands to adjust for the extra height that bolsters provide.
If your legs turn out:
- Place a yoga block between your thighs as a reminder to keep squeezing your legs together. This will help you build strength in your adductors (inner thighs).
If you have wrist pain:
- Place a yoga wedge under your hands to decrease the amount of wrist extension needed.
- Set the yoga wedge up across the top of your mat with the thick edge towards your body. Place the heel of your hands on the wedge and your fingers on your mat.
If your hips are tight:
- If you have tight hips, or tight hip flexors, place your hands on yoga blocks. This will help decrease the amount of hip extension needed in this pose so you can focus on opening your chest and strengthening your shoulders.
Yoga Poses Related to Upward Facing Dog Pose
- Salabhasana / Locust Pose
- Dhanurasana / Bow Pose
- Vrksasana / Tree Pose
- Adho Mukha Svanasana / Downward Dog Pose
- Phalakasana / Plank Pose
- Chaturanga Dandasana / Four Limb Staff Pose
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana / Bridge Pose
- Virasana / Hero’s Pose
- Ardha Bhekasana / Half Frog Pose
- Balasana / Child’s Pose
- Purvottanasana / Intense Stretch of the East Pose or Reverse Plank Pose
- Adho Mukha Svanasana / Downward Dog Pose
Poses To Take Your Practice Further
- Bhujangasana / Cobra Pose
- Dhanurasana / Bow Pose
- Anjaneyasana / Son of Anjani’s Pose
- Natarajasana / Lord Nataraja’s Pose or Lord of the Dance Pose
- Ustrasana / Camel Pose
- Urdhva Dhanurasana / Upward Bow Pose or Full Wheel Pose
- Rajakapotasana / King Pigeon Pose
Related Posts & Videos
- Post: Bhujangasana Benefits & Pose Breakdown
- Post: Dhanurasana Benefits & Pose Breakdown
- Video: Urdhva Mukha Svanasana Pose Breakdown
Gear & Resources for This Pose
- BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga
- Darren Rhodes Yoga Resource Practice Manual
- Stephen’s Favourite Eco-Friendly Yoga Mat
- Cork Yoga Blocks
- Organic Cotton or Hemp Yoga Bolsters
- Foam Yoga Wedge
Save 10% – Yoloha yoga gear, including cork yoga mats and blocks, organic cotton yoga straps, bolsters and more, is 10% off when you use our code adventure10 at checkout!
A Final Note About Upward Facing Dog Pose
Upward Facing Dog can look intimidating at first glance. However, this back bend is, for most students, more accessible than Cobra Pose, because the back bend isn’t as deep.
Don’t avoid it or leave it out of your practice! Urdhva Mukha Svanasana provides a great opportunity to build strength in your back, arms, and shoulders while also helping open your hips. Use this post to learn how to practice Urdhva Mukha Svanasana so you can access its full benefits.
Namaste OMies, Stephen
I hope this post has been helpful in expanding your possibilities with Up Dog. It’s my goal to inspire you to explore your yoga practice more deeply so that you can use the lessons learned on the mat to live your life’s adventure to the fullest!