// Urdhva Mukha Svanasana: Upward Facing Dog
I can find so many reasons to close my heart. To protect it and hide it. As the days pass, and the seasons change, as the ball of my life continues to roll on and on, I age, and I begin to acquire more painful experiences both personal and worldly, as every other human does. Sometimes it can seem impossible to look into the mirror and grieve the failures, the loss of loved ones, and the sheer brokenness written over my body and over the body of the world. Some days they feel so imprinted and vast that I cannot imagine there being any additional space for more broken hearts. This is utterly paralyzing.
Our Yoga practice calls us to show up, each day, and face whatever it is in front of us. When I want to retreat and hide behind my scars, my practice asks me to stand up, step forward, and reveal my face, to look at it, for as long as I need to in order to see the truth. When I, objectively, look into the mirror and engage with what I see, the imperfections and pain are not the only items of note, I begin to see much beauty and much hope. Then I think, maybe, I can do this again, take a chance, step up, reveal myself, and if my heart is broken again, and it will be, that I have everything I need to pick the pieces up.
It takes a tremendous amount of strength and courage to open our heart and spread our light, but when we do, we can be renewed. The featured pose for this month urdhva mukha svanasana, upward facing dog, is an extroverted pose. It calls us to show up, open our hearts, and share our light. The opening of our chest is invigorating. Mentally, this motion can increase self-confidence and aspiration. Instead of feeling paralyzed, we can feel motivated to promote change, engage with hope, and unabashedly love.
Somatically speaking, up dog is a strong, powerful pose. It strengthens nearly the whole body: arms, wrists, legs, core, and back. It provides a deep stretch for the chest, shoulders, belly, and hip flexors. One of the greatest benefits of this position is that it combats our greatest enemy; sitting at a desk all day long hunched over. To learn how to do this posture, read on.
Begin on the floor lying on your belly with your feet hip-width apart and the tops of your feet resting on the floor. Place your hands below your shoulders so that your elbows are directly above your wrist. The placement of your hands is going to vary depending on the length of your arms. Your fingertips may be at your shoulders and the backs of your hands closer to your waist. Bring your elbows so that they are beside your body and are not flaring out to the side. Be sure that they are not too tight into your body as to cause your shoulders to roll forward.
To enter into up dog, spread your fingers out along the mat, inhale, and begin to press firmly into your hands. As you straighten your arms, press into the tops of your feet and lift your torso and your legs up and off the mat. You will be suspended on your feet and hands. Your shoulders, elbows, and wrists will now all be stacked one on top of the other, with elbow creases facing forward.
As you hold, firm the thighs and slightly turn them inward. Press your tailbone toward the pubic bone and pull the pubic bone towards your navel. This will help firm up through the core and protect the lower back. Engage your glutes, but be mindful to not clench.
Guide your shoulder blades down your back and begin to open through the sternum. Your gaze can be forward or looking slightly up, but be aware to not compress the neck by tilting your head too far back. Continue to find a steady inhale and a steady exhale.
It can be a bit difficult to press up into this position, so if you need to, curl your toes under, putting more pressure in your feet, and lift yourself into up dog, then uncurl your toes, placing weight on the tops of your feet, and hold.
If you are finding that it is challenging to manage your weight in your arms, it can be helpful to put more weight into the tops of your feet. You can do this my elevating your hands onto blocks or up and onto a chair.
It can take a lot of strength to keep your legs suspended up and off of the ground. To help, you can start with a blanket rolled up at the top of your thighs. When you get into up dog, rest legs on the blanket for support and tuck your tailbone towards the blanket.
Avoid this posture if:
- You have an injury in your neck, wrist, shoulders, or lower back.
- You have recently had back or abdomen surgery.
- You have carpal tunnel.
- You are in your second or third trimester of pregnancy.
- You have a headache.