One of the most troublesome poses for new yoga students is Upward Facing Dog. In an all-levels class, many teachers start off with Cobra Pose, a gentle alternative to Upward Facing Dog. As the class progresses and spines are warmed up, the option to move into the more intense Upward Facing Dog is offered. At first glance, this pose looks very similar to Cobra, which has many people wondering, "What's the big difference, anyway?"
I chatted with Wanderlust Festival cocreator and Kula Yoga director Schuyler Grant about the most common misalignments she sees in Upward Facing Dog and Cobra Pose, plus tips to experience the full expression of both poses safely.
Keep things lifted: According to Schuyler, the most crucial differences between Cobra Pose and Upward Facing Dog is that your legs and pelvis are well off the floor in Upward Facing Dog. In Cobra Pose, your legs, pelvis, and even your lower ribs stay on the floor with your elbows bent to help lengthen your spine. If you're going to move into the full expression of Upward Facing Dog with your arms straight, then your legs and pelvis need to be off the floor; otherwise you could do major damage to your lower back.
Backbend beginnings: Although you might not recognize it, Upward Facing Dog actually acts as a backbend. Schuyler explains that the idea behind Cobra and Up Dog is to "maintain stability in your lower abdomen and lengthen your lower back." When you draw attention to your belly and back, you'll find that bringing the backbend to your upper back comes much more naturally. Once you make this shift in your practice, you'll find more flexibility (and less tension) between your shoulder blades and in your chest, two troublesome spots for people who sit at a 9-to-5 job all day.
Pull your chest forward and through: People tend to hang out in Upward Facing Dog and focus on pushing up through their arms. Underutilizing your legs, chest, and shoulder muscles in Upward Dog is a big mistake, since those are what should be working in the pose. Schuyler gives a helpful tip to visualize the pose once you're moving into it: "Always feel like you're pulling your chest forward and through, not pushing it up away from the floor." Once you take this tip to your Upward Facing Dog and even Cobra Pose, you will feel a difference in the comfort and intensity of your backbend.