Yoga is a holistic health approach that connects your body, mind, and soul, leading to improved strength, balance, and flexibility. Practicing yoga regularly can help relieve back pain, ease arthritis symptoms, boost your cardiovascular health, promote better sleep, increase energy levels, decrease major depressive disorder symptoms, and improve your mood.
In yoga, there are two opposing yoga poses that balance the body, Upward Facing Dog and Downward Facing Dog. Together, these common yoga poses can help to re-balance the body after inversions and are often incorporated in salutations to heat up the body.
What is the Upward Facing Dog?
Upward Facing Dog, also known as Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana in Sanskrit, strengthens the forearms, lower back, triceps, shoulders, chest, and abdomen. Although it is primarily an intermediate yoga pose, it can be intensified by repetition and longer holds. One of the many benefits of this pose is the beautiful stretch to the chest, shoulders, and abdominals, along with a backbend that opens the body.
Upward Facing Dog encourages proper alignment and resets posture, leading to improved overall spinal health and reduced risk of lower back pain. Mental health benefits of this pose include a lower risk of depression, reduction of fatigue and stress symptoms.
How to Do Upward Facing Dog Yoga Pose
- Begin in Plank Pose and lower your body toward the floor or mat.
- Straighten your arms while rolling over your toes.
- Elevate your chest toward the ceiling and keep your arms straight.
- Avoid throwing your head backward even if your gaze goes up slightly.
- Engage your legs and move your hips toward the mat.
- Push into the tops of your feet and palms of your hand.
- Make sure your shoulders are over your wrists.
- Move your shoulder blades down toward your spine.
- Create a good space between your ears and shoulders.
We suggest not holding this pose for a long time at first, but using it instead to heat up the body and transition through salutations. Pregnant women should not practice this pose along with anyone who has undergone abdominal surgery, suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches, back, arms, shoulders, and hip injuries.
What is the Downward Facing Dog Yoga Pose?
Downward Facing Dog or Adho Mukha Svanasana, is a beginner-level posture that targets your calves, hamstrings, and core. It stretches out your legs and creates space between your shoulders and spinal vertebrae. The pose, also casually referred to as “Down Dog,” is one of the best asanas for posture alignment and is frequently practiced in Vinyasa yoga.
Other benefits of this pose include strengthened arms, spine, legs, and flexible calves and hamstrings. It can relieve cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine pain. Because Downward Facing Dog involves a mild inversion, it increases blood flow to your brain, causing it to release serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. These chemicals suppress cortisol levels and occupy the neuronal synapse for a long time, leading to reduced stress and improved mood.
How to Practice Downward Facing Dog
- Start the pose on your hands and knees.
- Keep your wrists underneath your shoulders.
- Make sure your knees are underneath your hips.
- Curl your toes under and put weight on your hands.
- Lift your hips while straightening your legs.
- Spread your fingers and transition from your forearms to your fingertips.
- Rotate your upper arms outwardly to ensure your collarbones are broadened.
- Keep your shoulder blades away from your ears and your head hanging.
- Make sure your quadriceps are engaged to bear your body’s weight.
- Keep your tail high and rotate your thighs inward.
- Place your heels on the mat firmly and come forward to the plank position.
- Avoid stepping your feet toward your hand to ensure your heels are on the mat.
- Bend your knees on the exhalation to come back to the original position.
Most beginners find it challenging to perform Downward Facing Dog at first because they tend to collapse their chest and shoulders, putting a lot of strain on the neck and shoulder area. Prevent this by pushing the palms of your hands into the floor firmly to prevent straining your neck and shoulders. Make sure to spread your fingers and elevate your chest up and forward.