BY DEBBY SIEGEL, MSA, RYT
PHOTO BY MICHELLE THOMAS
Upward Facing Dog is a backbending option in the four part Chaturanga flow, or vinyasa flow series, practiced multiple times in most vinyasa yoga classes.
To find Up Dog, begin lying on your belly with your forehead on the floor and your feet hip-width apart and parallel, toes extended straight back from your heels. Place your hands on the floor next to your low ribs. Spread your fingers apart so that you can distribute your weight across the hand concentrating the weight into the base knuckle of the index finger and thumb primarily. Keep your elbows stacked over your wrists and near your side body. Your wrist creases should parallel the front of your mat. While lying here, firmly press the tops of your feet down into the mat so that your quadriceps engage and your kneecaps lift off the mat. Keep these activated legs when in up dog, to keep from dumping into your low back. Rotate the inner thighs to the ceiling (this broadens your lower back) and release the flesh of your buttocks toward the floor to create this backbend where your lower back is spacious and protected.
Let’s lift off. Press into your palms and the tops of your feet. Extend your sternum forward and up while energetically pulling your hands back on the mat. I like to give the cue, smile across your collar bones. Press your shoulder blades toward each other and this will help open your upper back. Continue to direct your tailbone down, and see that your chin is level to the floor so that you don’t overbend in your neck. Some people have the flexibility to look up, but my advice is to keep an extended neck as one long curve from your spine. Extending your neck too much will make your backbend not even, and continuing these imbalances over time, you’ll put undue stress on these vital parts of your body.
Drive down through your shoulders into your hands and lift the crown of your head toward the ceiling while shining your heart through your upper arm bones and continuing to breathe deep. Finding a strong upward facing dog will set you up for the next step in this four part series, Downward Facing Dog.