Updated: Apr 15, 2018
Dogs naturally know how to release tension. That's why, in Yoga, we sometimes copy their movements.
'Upward Facing Dog' stretches the chest, spine, lungs, shoulders and abdomen. By giving a deep stretch to the spine and front torso, it helps us humans to release the tight and rounded shoulders we get from holding stress, poor posture, sitting around too much, or from using phones and computers for too long ... Like I did while building this website. :)
First and foremost, always take it easy with Yoga stretches that are new to your body. If you are a complete beginner read the instructions at the end of this post to come in and out of the pose safely.
If you've already practiced Upward Facing Dog have a look at the image below for some alignment tips, and get an understanding of what you want your body to do in the stretch.
To master this pose, it can be helpful if you have someone to read out the instructions while you are in the stretch.
And most importantly, remember to inhale and exhale as deeply as you can.
Breathing deeply and consciously while we stretch increases the oxygen levels in our body and helps to relax our muscles, ligaments and tendons. Once relaxed they can then elongate naturally and slowly, which releases the built up tension and tightness.
Downward Facing Dog instruction for beginners:
Do not practice Upward-Facing Dog if you have carpal tunnel syndrome, or a recent back or wrist injury. Women who are pregnant should also avoid practicing this pose after the first trimester, as it can create too much strain on the round ligaments and lower back. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
Begin by lying face-down on the floor with your legs extended behind you, spread a few inches apart. The tops of your feet should rest on the floor — do not tuck your toes, as this can crunch your spine.
Place your hands on the floor alongside your body, next to your lower ribs. Point your fingers to the top of the mat and hug your elbows in close to your ribcage.
Inhale as you press through your hands firmly into the floor. Straighten your arms, lifting your torso and your legs a few inches off the floor.
Press down firmly through the tops of your feet. Strongly engage your leg muscles to keep your thighs lifted off the floor.
Keep your elbows pressed alongside your body. Drop your shoulders away from your ears and lift your chest toward the ceiling.
Draw your shoulders back and your heart forward, but do not crunch your neck. If your neck is flexible, tilt your head to gaze toward the sky. Otherwise, keep your head neutral and your gaze directly forward.
Your thighs should be firm and turned slightly inward. Your arms should also be firm, slightly turned so that each elbow crease faces forward.
Only straighten your arms as much as your body allows. Deepen the stretch as your practice advances, but avoid straining to achieve a deeper backbend.
Actively press your shoulder blades into your upper back. Keep your elbows hugged in to your sides. Broaden across your collarbones and lift your heart. Lower the tops of your shoulders away from your ears. Distribute the length of the backbend evenly through your entire spine.
Hold the pose for 5 breaths (or up to 30 seconds). To release, exhale as you slowly lower your torso and forehead to the mat. Turn your head to the right, resting your left ear on the mat. Relax your arms alongside your body. Repeat the pose 3-5 times, depending on how you feel.
Be careful not to force your body into the pose, seeking a deeper backbend. Instead, take it slowly and back off if you feel any pain or pinching sensations. If it is difficult to keep your legs lifted above your mat, roll a firm blanket or towel and place it below your top thighs. When you move into Upward-Facing Dog, rest your thighs lightly on the roll.
Have yourself a great day.