After summer break, we're continuing with our IG tutorials, and extending them into our blog, so you can have them handy. We’ll give you alignment tips or DO’s for common asanas, as well as DONT’s, or, common alignment mistakes. We hope these tips will help you progress in your practice, and more importantly, avoid injury.
Today we'll look at Urdhva Mukha Svanasana or upward facing dog, presented by our Maša. Upward facing dog is one of the Surya Namaskar asanas, which means we practice it on almost every class. In our beginner classes at Sangha, we modify it with Bujanghasana (Cobra pose), and with a good reason - Urdhva Mukha is a quite challenging spinal and hip extension (aka backbend), and requires a certain degree of flexibility, but even more so, right understanding of the asana. It’s quite safe if you know how to engage the muscles of the back part of your body in order to facilitate safe opening of the front. As it opens and stretches all the muscles on the front of our body, we can say it’s a perfect counter-position for our sedentary (flexed) way of life.
Push the floor with your hands as you inhale and push your chest forward. Relax your hip flexors to allow extension (space under that bony part of your front pelvis:). They'll relax more if you engage your glutes (butt muscles) and your legs. Elongate the back of your neck and gaze to the front, not up (you don't need tense forehead or wrinkles).
You can lift your head a bit more but make sure you keep your neck muscles engaged.
Don't do something in between Cobra and Upward Facing Dog. If your body is not ready for a deeper extension in the hips and spine, practice Cobra and other asanas until you get there. Observe the hips here - they are not extended at all due to hip flexors breaking (stopping) the movement. This can happen for a few reasons, one being flexion reflex caused by your brain saying NOOOO, while your heart is saying YESSS. See if you can tell your brain it’s ok, and relax your hips towards the earth. If that doesn’t help, use cobra until it does.
There's a few things we can observe here, the shoulders and the legs / feet. The shoulders are lifted up creating tension in the neck (avoid this by pushing the floor with your hands). Shoulders are pushed forward causing the front ribs to close, which is the opposite of the intention in this asana. Avoid this by fearlessly pushing the heart forward. Heels are out due to lack of engagement of inner tights and, possibly glutes. If you're not sure how to engage your inner tights, place a block in between them and squeeze it as you lift up.
"The hanging head". We see this one a lot, and more so in hyper-flexible and more advanced students. Relaxing the full weight of your head (about 4 kilos) on the weakest part of your spine, unsupported by neck muscles and hyper extending the weakest part of your neck is, well, not the best idea. Rather make your neck muscles work in a more gentle neck extension and not dropping your head back (same goes for head in Ustrasana, Purvottanasana etc.). In this case, less is more. Also, drishti (gaze point) is over the tip of your nose (not cross eyes to the tip of your nose!), not up. Looking up will tense your face and cause wrinkles. And who likes them wrinkles??