Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana is the upward-facing dog pose—the counter pose to downward-facing dog. It is a backbend, while downward-facing dog is a forward bend. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana has similar actions to the cobra pose, the difference being that the legs come off the floor in upward-facing dog.
Lie down on your belly. Extend the legs straight out, behind you. Place your hands by your waist, fingers facing forward. Stretch from the legs to the toes, hug the thigh muscle into the bone. Inhale and look forward. Extend your chest and your upper back forward and your ribs forward and up. Draw the ribs away from the belly to create space for the spine to come in, lengthen, and coil.
Press the hands and feet down to lift the legs slightly off the floor and to support the torso. Exhale the breath. Stretch into the toes as you continue coiling the spine forward and up. Bring the upper arms back, open the top chest to draw the shoulder blades into the back. Lift the kneecaps and firm the thighs. Avoid over-squeezing the shoulder blades together (creating a crease between them). The shoulder blades move into the back body. Gaze upward, if the neck is comfortable, or else look forward. Feel the stretch in the belly. Stay in the pose for several natural, smooth breaths and then come down and release.
You can also tuck the toes under instead of coming up on the front of the feet (SEE FIGURE 13-30). This will stimulate muscle-hugging action in the legs. When using the arms in the pose, bend the elbows out to the sides and press the chest and upper back forward. Then lengthen the arms. Do this several times. This enhances the expansion of the chest and the drawing in of the shoulder blades against the back. You may also want to try doing the pose while keeping the knees on the floor (SEE FIGURE 13-31).
If you have wrist problems, use support under the wrist to change the angle of flexion. Distribute the weight evenly throughout the hand. If you have lower back pain, don't push aggressively into the pose. Create as much space as possible in the spine. Draw the ribs forward and lengthen the sacrum and tailbone down and away from the lower back. Often, the thighs lift too high off the ground, causing the lower back to pop up and shorten and compress. The thighs lift only in reaction to the pressing down of the feet.
FIGURE 13-30: With toes tucked under
FIGURE 13-31: With knees on floor, toes tucked under
The benefits of Urdhva Mukha Svanasana include the following:
It is a wonderful stretch in the front body and its organs.
It is excellent for flexibility of the spine.
It strengthens back muscles and the spine.
It increases bone density.
It relieves backache such as sciatica and slipped disc.
It expands the chest and increases lung capacity.
It improves circulation in the pelvis.