The Low Down on Upward Dog
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, or upward facing dog, is a beautiful heart-opener and backbend. Whether enjoyed for a single breath in your flow practice or slowed down and held for a few in a hatha class, this posture offers a deep awakening for the front seam of the body while calling on strength and alignment at the foundation.
The foundation of upward dog is in the structure of the hands and feet. The sanskrit word “bandha” translates to lock, seal, or closure. During asana (postural) or pranayama (breath work) practice, bandhas help to energetically “lock” in energy and prana (life force), consciously sealing it inside of our bodies so that it can aid us in our practice. Hasta bandha, or "hand lock", stabilizes and roots the hands while drawing energy up the forearms, across the heart and down the collar bones. The outward rotation of the front seam of the shoulders draws the shoulder blades onto the back, inviting the heart to draw open and the collar bones to soften and widen. Bringing our awareness down to the tops of the feet, we aim for a clear grounding here as well. Inner toe mounds, ankles, shins, knees and thighs all draw towards our centre line to create strength and stability. With tops of the thighs and knees lifted, the spine can stretch up out of the waist, resulting in a juicy spine lengthener as well as lower back bend. The lower belly gently lifts to support the spineAs we lift the gaze and continue to lengthen out of the crown, we draw shoulders down the back and breathe into the heart space.
Upward facing dog not only feels amazing, but it's amazing for us! This posture creates an evenly distributed extension throughout the entire spine, strengthens the wrists and opens the quadriceps and hip flexors. The nature of this shape allows the rib cage to expand, literally creating more room to breathe. Not only does this help to increase lung capacity but the organs of the abdomen get stimulated also. As we typically spend a lot of time hunched forward in our daily lives, upward facing dog helps to improve posture and has even been said to help with depression and fatigue as we expand into the space of the heart.