Published in Sweat Equity Magazine August/September 2016 issue
Upward Facing Dog is one of the most common yoga postures. You will find it within every Sun Salutation and it’s practiced dozens if not more times in any Power, Ashtanga, or Vinyasa Yoga class. These reasons alone make proper alignment and modifying as needed in Up Dog of great importance.
You’ll recognize Upward Facing Dog as the transition point from Chaturanga (low push-up) through to Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog). If you’re high-plank to low push-up into Up Dog maneuver looks more like a Chatu-Flop attempt to muscle-up than it does a ‘moving meditation’—don’t worry. I’ve been there. Keep reading for ways to fluidly connect breath with movement while building the strength you need for the classic pose.
From Down Dog to Plank and lowering to Chaturanga, actively roll over the toes, allowing the tops of the feet to press downwards into your mat. If you’re not comfortable with the “roll-over-toes” action, just turn your feet over, one at a time, to achieve the same position.
To arrive on the tops of the feet without pulling your shoulders and chest too far forwards, strongly activate the legs. Contract the quadriceps by lifting the kneecaps off the mat and broaden the soles of your feet. The heels tend to fall out to the sides here if your legs aren’t active. Pull the heels firmly inwards to align with the sitting bones.
While reaching back and up through the feet and legs, firmly press the full palm of each hand and the length of each finger into the earth. Incorporate a gentle sense of “pressing forward” with the palms to enhance the length in the spine. Your hands won’t move, as they’ll stay glued to your mat, and the rebounding energy from pressing the hands down will help lengthen and stretch the front of the torso.
If you’re a beginner, keep your gaze drawing forwards to minimize tension in the neck. Often people lift their head without bringing the necessary arch through their thoracic spine, where the extension should be focused.
Breathe. Keep rooting down on the exhalation and lengthening up on your inhalation. When the posture begins to collapse (the shoulders creep up towards the ears or your lower back starts talking), it’s time to take a break. Repeat 1–3 times.
Firmly engage your triceps to straighten the arms completely. Although some people have super-lax joints, for most of us, this isn’t a problem. Focus on aligning the upper arm bones (the humerus) over the lower arm bones (the forearms). Stacking the bones on top of each other means less muscular effort is required to sustain the pose.
If the legs feel heavy and dragging rather than light and lifting, then your pelvis will sag, dumping weight into the lower back. For obvious reasons you want to avoid this! Cobra Pose is an excellent alternative to Upward Dog here.
Keep the shoulders moving down away from the ears by drawing the shoulder blades towards the spine. This helps broaden the collarbones, open the chest, and expand the rib cage.