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Benefits of Urdhva mukha svanasana and How to Do it By Dr. Himani Bisht

By Dr. Himani Bisht +2 more

Introduction: 

The practice of yoga has a lengthy existence in ancient India, with its origins rooted over 2000 years. It is considered a form of mind-body fitness, which combines muscular activity with a mindful focus on awareness of breath, energy and self.1,2 Ever wondered why yoga studios do not have any mirrors? It is because yoga prepares you for a better body image. It wants people to focus on their inner awareness rather than how a pose or people around them look like. Interesting, isn’t it? 

Asana, another name for yoga postures, is the physical practice of yoga. One such asana is Urdhva mukha svanasana, also called the upward-facing dog. So, let us look at some exciting features and benefits of the upward dog pose. 

Urdhva mukha svanasana

What is Urdhva mukha svanasana? 

Urdhva mukha svanasana, also called the upward-facing dog pose, is performed as part of Surya namaskar (Sun salutation), although a similar asana known as, Bhujangasana (cobra pose) may be used there instead. The name has roots in the Sanskrit words “Urdhva” (Upward), “mukha” (face) and “svanasana” (dog). The asana was introduced in the 20th century by Krishnamacharya and was later taught by his pupils- B.K.S Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois.3 

How to do it? 

Following are the steps to perform Urdhva mukha svanasana correctly to avail maximum benefits: 

  • Lie down in a prone position/swimmer’s position. Extend your legs back in a straight position aligned with the hips.  
  • Keep the top of your feet resting on the ground; forearms should be perpendicular to the ground. Twist the elbows and place your palms at the level of the lowest rib. 
  • Apply pressure on your hands as you inhale. 
  • Next, while keeping your arms straight, raise your upper body. 
  • The weight of your entire body will be rested on your palms, and you will feel the pressure discharging in your lower back. 
  • Next, take a deep breath and raise your thighs off the ground. Your body is now supported by your palms and the tip of your toes. To facilitate your weight on the calves, roll your thighs inwards. 
  • Lift your pubis in an upward direction and push it towards the navel. 
  • Do not strain your neck, and keep your shoulder and collar bones firm. 
  • Continue to remain in the same pose for 30 seconds or anywhere between 5-15 breaths, whichever is easier. 
  • Next, breathe out and return to the initial position. Rest and repeat three to six times.3 

Researchers have found that Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, when done with other yoga asanas, has a high correlation with reduced depression symptoms in breast cancer patients when practised regularly. So. I shall recommend the regular practise of Urdhva Mukha Svanasana as it may be one of the yogasanas known to relax the body and relieve stress and depression.

Dr. Siddharth Gupta, MD

Do you know? 

The mythology of the upward-facing dog is an exciting tale of great moral value from Mahabharata. After the battle was over, disillusioned Pandavas set out on foot towards the North. One by one, Pandavas fell along the way, and Yudhishthira, the eldest brother, trudges alone and later is accompanied by a stray dog. As they approach heaven, the king of gods, “Indra”, arrives in a chariot. Indra welcomes Yudhishthira to heaven and asks him to leave the dog behind. Yudhishthira pleads, “This dog is devoted to me, he had many chances to leave, but he did not”, and it is a sin to abandon someone who is devoted to you. As Yudhishthira protected the dog, all the denizens in heaven rejoiced when both entered together. 

Like loyal dogs, yogis return to their practice of asanas every day. Something inside us is drawn to love to follow our inner teacher in the same manner as the dog followed Yudhishthira.4 

Breast cancer-related lymphoedema (BCRL) is a group of pathological disorders characterised by a variety of symptoms, including arm swelling, reduced physical activity and body mobility, altered limb feeling, and exhaustion accompanied by psychological stress. In my opinion, regular practice of Urdhva Mukha Svanasana along with other yogasanas may aid in lowering the effects of the symptoms associated with BCRL.

Dr. Rajeev Singh, BAMS

Benefits of Urdhva mukha svanasana: 

This classic yoga pose is known to provide several benefits to the mind and body, which are described as under: 

Benefit of Urdhva mukha svanasana for breast cancer-associated fatigue 

Fatigue is a prevalent and disabling symptom of breast cancer. Bower JE et al. conducted a study to evaluate the efficacy of Iyengar-based yoga intervention for breast cancer-associated fatigue. This yoga intervention includes specific postures (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayamas). One of the asanas included was Urdhva mukha svanasana. Results suggested that patients who practised Urdhva mukha svanasana along with other asanas and pranayama techniques, had a lesser intensity of fatigue. Thus, the upward dog pose, when performed along with other asanas and pranayamas may help in reducing breast cancer-associated fatigue but should not be considered an alternative to modern medicine. Kindly consult your physician if you experience chronic fatigue. In addition, it is recommended to always perform this asana under supervision.5,6 

Benefit of Urdhva mukha svanasana for improving physical fitness 

Enhanced physical fitness (muscular fitness, flexibility and cardiorespiratory fitness) is associated with a lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Lau C et al. conducted a study to observe the effects of a 12-week yoga intervention on physical fitness. The yoga intervention included different yoga postures, one of which was the upward dog pose. The study results supported the practice of Urdhva mukha svanasana for improving physical fitness. This asana may help you improve physical fitness, but it is better to consult a doctor and not rely completely on this asana alone. Additionally, one must perform this asana under a qualified trainer.7,8 

Benefit of Urdhva mukha svanasana for posture and flexibility 

In Urdhva mukha svanasana, when the back is arched, it causes the expansion of the lower back and the contraction of muscles in the upper back. This may improve posture, help alleviate moderate back pain, and may reduce sciatica’s severity. Urdhva mukha svanasana may help improve flexibility and posture, but it alone should not be considered an alternative to modern medicine.  Consult your doctor in case of any issues. It is best to perform this under the guidance of a qualified yoga trainer.9 

 Other benefits of Urdhva mukha svanasana: 

  • May help manage depression by improving blood circulation to the head.10 
  • The lungs gain elasticity due to chest expansion, which may help in improving the breathing capacity.11 
  • May help in preventing excess menstrual flow and eases menstrual cramps.12 

While the practice of yoga may be beneficial for physical, mental and spiritual development, one must not depend on Yoga alone to cure any medical condition. If you are suffering from any disease condition, please consult a qualified medical practitioner who will be able to examine you and advise appropriate treatment. Moreover, yoga must be learned and practised under the supervision of an experienced yoga teacher to avoid any injuries. 

Risks of Urdhva mukha svanasana 

It is contraindicated to perform Urdhva mukha svanasana in the following conditions: 

  • Neck or back injury 
  • Disc injury/fused disc 
  • Severe intestinal problems 
  • High or a low blood pressure 
  • Severe headache or migraine.12 

Note- It is recommended to always perform the asanas under the guidance of a qualified and experienced teacher. Please consult a doctor or yoga specialist while performing the asanas in the above-listed conditions. 

Conclusion 

Urdhva mukha svanasana, also called the upward-facing dog, is a back-bending asana. It is considered part of the Surya namaskar (sun salutation) sequence. This pose is entered in a prone position, legs are stretched out, weight supported on palms, and the lower body lifted off of the ground. This classic yoga pose provides several benefits to the mind and body, including reducing breast cancer-associated fatigue, improving physical fitness, managing depression, etc.  

Frequently Asked Questions 

For how long should you hold the upward dog posture? 

It is recommended to hold the posture initially for 30 seconds and with practice, one can stay in the posture for about a minute. 

Who should not do the upward-facing dog exercise? 

This exercise is contraindicated for people having the following conditions: 
Back or neck injury 
Disc injury/fused disc 
High or low blood pressure 
Severe headache or migraine.12 

What muscles are involved in the upward dog pose? 

Upward-facing dog pose also called “upward dog,” is helpful in stretching the abdominal and chest muscles and strengthening the triceps, shoulders, lower back and forearms. 

What is the difference between an upward-facing dog and a cobra pose? 

In the upward-facing dog pose, you arch your back by lifting the top of your feet, legs, and hips while the arms continue to remain straight. Whereas, in the cobra pose, your feet, legs and hips stay on the floor, and elbows are slightly bent.  

Which is the upward dog pose in yoga? 

Urdhva mukha svanasana, is also called the upward-facing dog pose. The name has roots from the Sanskrit words “Urdhva” (Upward), “mukha” (face) and “svanasana” (dog). Therefore, “Urdhva mukha svanasana” translates to “upward dog pose” in English.3 

References: 

1] Williams K, Steinberg L, Petronis J. Therapeutic application of Iyengar yoga for healing chronic low back pain. Int J Yoga Ther. 2003; 13:55–67 

Available  at: https://scholar.google.com/scholar_lookup?journal=Int+J+Yoga+Ther&title=Therapeutic+application+of+iyengar+yoga+for+healing+chronic+low+back+pain&author=K+Williams&author=L+Steinberg&author=J+Petronis&volume=13&publication_year=2003&pages=55-67& 

2] Taneja DK. Yoga and health. Indian J Community Med. 2014 Apr;39(2):68-72. doi: 10.4103/0970-0218.132716. PMID: 24963220; PMCID: PMC4067931. 

Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4067931/ 

3] B.K.S. Iyengar. Yogasanas, Bandha and Kriya. Light on Yoga. London: Thorsons.1966;108-109 

Available at:  

https://archive.org/details/light-on-yoga-b.-k.-s. iyengar/page/107/mode/2up?q=urdhva+mukha+svanasana&view=theater 

4] Chandramouleeswaran S, Russell PS. Complementary psychosocial interventions in child and adolescent psychiatry: pet assisted therapy. Indian J Psychol Med. 2014 Jan;36(1):4-8. doi: 10.4103/0253-7176.127240. PMID: 24701004; PMCID: PMC3959016. 

Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3959016/ 

5] Jacobsen PB, Stein K. Is fatigue a long-term side effect of breast cancer treatment? Cancer Control. 1999;6(3):256–263. 

Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10758555 

6] Bower JE, Garet D, Sternlieb B. Yoga for persistent fatigue in breast cancer survivors: results of a pilot study. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011;2011:623168. doi: 10.1155/2011/623168. Epub 2011 Jan 13. PMID: 21274288; PMCID: PMC3026999. 

Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3026999/#B5 

7] Jurca R., Lamonte M. J., Barlow C. E., Kampert J. B., Church T. S., Blair S. N. Association of muscular strength with incidence of metabolic syndrome in men. Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise. 2005;37(11):1849–1855. doi: 10.1249/01.mss.0000175865.17614.74 

Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4475 

8] Lau C, Yu R, Woo J. Effects of a 12-Week Hatha Yoga Intervention on Cardiorespiratory Endurance, Muscular Strength and Endurance, and Flexibility in Hong Kong Chinese Adults: A Controlled Clinical Trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:958727. doi: 10.1155/2015/958727. Epub 2015 Jun 8. PMID: 26167196; PMCID: PMC4475706. 

Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4475706/ 

9] Lau C, Yu R, Woo J. Effects of a 12-Week Hatha Yoga Intervention on Cardiorespiratory Endurance, Muscular Strength and Endurance, and Flexibility in Hong Kong Chinese Adults: A Controlled Clinical Trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:958727. doi: 10.1155/2015/958727. Epub 2015 Jun 8. PMID: 26167196; PMCID: PMC4475706. 

Available at:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4475706/#B22 

10] Rajesh Chandra Khatri. A Dynamic Dimension of Depression: Real experience and experiments with Depression: Notionpress.com; 2021. Available at: https://books.google.co.in/books?id=Hmk9EAAAQBAJ&pg=PT154&lpg=PT154&dq=urdhva+mukha+svanasana+and+depression+study&source=bl&ots=5m5hPof41r&sig=ACfU3U1ajT7-e2NWoYmfORMHL1Sa_qeSTw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwivh7rzzZT7AhVAw3MBHTtGCOA4PBDoAXoECBgQAw#v=onepage&q=urdhva%20mukha%20svanasana%20and%20depression%20study&f=false 

11] Ray Long. The Key poses of Yoga. Udhva mukha svanasana. Carol price BWY DCT; November 2013. 

Available at: https://www.bwy.org.uk/pdf/1387549952BWY%20-%20Posture%20of%20the%20Month%20-%20Upward%20facing%20Dog.pdf 

12] Asana 101.Nadayoga:500 hr teacher training. Urdhva mukha svanasana.2011;62-63 

Available at: https://www.naada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/ASANA101_manualV6.2.pdf 

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for educational/awareness purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional and should not be relied upon to diagnose or treat any medical condition. The reader should consult a registered medical practitioner to determine the appropriateness of the information and before consuming any medication. PharmEasy does not provide any guarantee or warranty (express or implied) regarding the accuracy, adequacy, completeness, legality, reliability or usefulness of the information; and disclaims any liability arising thereof.

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