Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Yoga Pose of the Month: Upward Facing Dog

The sun is peeking its elusive head out more often these days. For all those winter months we Seattleites have been hunched over our computers and bundled against the rain, and now it's high time to open our chests (and hearts) to the sun's warmth!

Upward Facing Dog is a quintessential pose in the Ashtanga/Power Yoga/Vinyasa warm up sequence that opens the chest, strengthens the arms, and provides a strong back bend when done correctly. Up Dog provides much needed space to breathe, strength for triceps, deltoids, traps, and core. Back bends are very energizing and calming when done in combination with a forward bend (like Down Dog, or standing forward bend). Most summer sports including, Cycling, Soccer, Squash/Tennis, Swimming would GREATLY benefit from Up Dog, because so many of those sports require the body to constantly be in a hunched or forward moving motion. Up Dog provides a much needed back bend relief.

Let's Begin:
It's best to warm up for 10 minutes doing gentle poses (refer to my previous SAC blogs for more info) before moving into Upward Facing Dog.
  1. From Downward Facing Dog, roll your shoulders forward over the hands for a strong Plank pose.
  2. Slowly, with elbows gracing the sides of your body, lower like a board, all the way to the mat.
  3. Slide wrists back to the middle of the rib cage (your bra strap line... sorry gents, you'll have to use your imagination!) and with your hands as flat as a pancake and fingers spread wide to protect the wrists, push yourself up and forward through the arms until your legs are off the floor. Your chest should be forward of your wrists, shoulders away from your ears, elbows very slightly bent, low back in a deep arch, legs strong around the knee caps, and chin level to the floor. You should be able to breathe comfortably and have no pain in wrists or back. If you feel "pinched" in any way, please start with a variation, below.

Beginning Variations:
  1. Low Cobra - from lying on your front side, squeeze your glutes and shoulder blades together until your chest peels off of the floor. In this Up Dog variation, your hands can be under your shoulders, and very light on the mat. This still gives you a chest opener, without aggravating wrists or shoulder injuries.
  2. Sphinx Pose - Similar to Cobra, from laying on your frontside, prop yourself up on your forearms, and make sure your glutes are SOFT in this pose, and shoulders down. This is usually a strong back bend for folks, so be conscious of your low back.

From any of these variations, bend your knees on the floor, and push your hips back to Child's Pose or Down Dog for a counter pose to a back bend.

For more instruction on Upward Facing Dog, or any pose, please come to my classes at the club or schedule a private yoga lesson now offered by myself and many of our other wonderful yoga teachers at Seattle Athletic Club Downtown.

Written by Tonja Renee Hall
Yoga Instructor, Seattle Athletic Club Downtown
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