Setup for Upward Facing Dog
Upward facing dog is a prone backbend, meaning that you begin by lying on your stomach, feet hip-width apart. Stretch your legs back. Tuck your toes for a moment and stretch out through your heels to lengthen the backs of your legs. Now untuck your toes and place the tops of your feet on the floor.
Bend your elbows and place your hands on the floor so that your forearms are more or less perpendicular to the floor. Your fingertips may be level with your shoulders or farther back toward your waist—a lot depends on the length of your arms; the point is to have your wrists under your elbows when you straighten your arms. Your elbows should be close to your ribs, not flaring out to the sides, but not squeezing into your sides so much that your shoulders roll forward.
Refining the Pose
Roll your inner thighs in, toward the floor. Firm your buttocks, but don't clench them. Lift the top of your pubic bone toward your breastbone, elongating the front body. Lengthen your tailbone toward the space between your heels, elongating the back body.
Slide your rib cage toward your head. Lift the base of your skull off the top vertebra of your neck. Imagine a tiny airbag between your skull and C-1 (your top cervical vertebra); inflate that airbag. Let your neck and head follow the natural line of your spine; don’t shorten the back of the neck by overlifting your chin; keep it long and free. It may help to think of your neck as starting between your shoulder blades; from that point, lengthen your spine without moving the neck itself. You will feel your head rising. Trust your arms and legs and spine to hold you up—don't try to enlist the neck and jaw to help. Picture the expression on a dog's face when he stretches like this and keep the energy of the pose happy and playful. Stay for several breaths and then come down.
Modifications for Upward Facing Dog
If you have trouble sustaining weight through your arms try changing the angle of the pose to bring more weight into your legs. Here are some possibilities: elevate your hands on yoga blocks or even a chair seat. You could also try tucking your toes tucked as you go up into the pose to help lift the legs; once you’ve achieved your full height, untuck them.
Avoid this pose if you have injuries to your neck, wrists, shoulders, or low back, or if you have recently had surgery involving your abdomen or back. Save it for later if you are in your second or third trimester of pregnancy. Skip it if you have a headache.
Benefits of Upward Facing Dog
Upward-facing dog can strengthen the wrists, arms, and back. Its chest-opening action provides a great antidote to “office slump,” while freeing the lungs and opening the heart. Backbends like updog are regarded as “extroverted” poses which can balance our tendency to curl in on ourselves when we feel depressed or overwhelmed.