Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Unlocking the Up Dog

After class this morning, I stuck around to work on this week's pose--Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-facing Dog). I usually come to it from a Down Dog-to-Plank flow so I'm thinking about lengthening the arms and engaging the torso. Of course I couldn't hold it for 5 minutes (who thought up that dumb rule?), but I was there long enough to watch my elbows try to roll forwards and ease the work of the chest.

I'm not going to go into a long explanation here (because I already did
here) about why you need to keep your inner elbow creases facing each other, but notice how much your inner creases want to twist forwards. This causes the elbows to lock and you rest the weight of your torso on the elbow joint, instead of keeping the chest engaged supporting the body with your pectoral muscles. Just try it and see...elbows roll forwards--easy, elbows face each other--arms start to shake.

A common instruction for Up Dog is to open across the chest and this action can easily lead to rotated elbows. As you open the chest, really concentrate on keeping the shoulder blades down in back, lengthening the neck and keeping the arms in line as you press your palms to the floor. Breathe into the work of the chest and upper arms...because, believe me, there will be work.

Then lift back to Plank and up (?) to Down Dog as a release pose. You bionic yogis may move into this from Chatturanga Dandasana, but I usually end up on my belly as my arms give out instead of curling up to Up 'Dog. I guess there's another goal to strive for...

(If you want to read more, here's an even
earlier post on the wrist joints.)


Anne-Marie said...

I tried urdhva mukha svanasana with the elbow creases facing inwards, and I can’t do it. It’s not just a case of “My arms won’t hold me up in that position”, but more a case of “My body actually won’t do that”. You might as well tell me to turn my head 180 degrees – it won’t happen. The only way I can make my elbow creases turn inwards in urdhva mukha svanasana is if I either bend my elbows or turn my hands inwards. But I can turn my elbows in for adho mukha svanasana, no problem. Is this normal for beginners? Should I just keep trying?

Brenda P. said...

Anne-Marie, try this. Start in Child's Pose with your arms stretched out in front, then come to all fours. The heels of the hands should be a little ahead of your shoulders, shoulder-distance apart. Make sure the index finger points straight ahead and the wrist crease is parallel to the top of your mat.

Now, look at the creases in the elbows and try to rotate the elbows (with the hands still in place), so the creases face each other. It should be easier without the full weight of the torso on the hands.

Then come to Up Dog. You can keep your knees on the floor and just drop the hips forward so that the pose is a bit more supported. Still try to keep the chest open, shoulder blades down and elbow creases turned inward.

Yoga Journal sez the elbow crease should face forwards. My research (see earlier link) pointed out that this leads to locking the elbows and also putting additional stress on the joint. So, choose your poison, I guess.

Let me know if this helps...Cheers!

Liara Covert said...

The practical side of yoga instruction reminds everyone that what they do is just as important as what they do not do. Silence is a teacher just as words or sound is a teacher. What matters is how we choose to listen.

Anne-Marie said...

Brenda, thanks for the advice. I tried what you suggested, and I can get the elbow creases to turn inwards more when I stay on my knees with my hips forward. But it really hurts! My elbows feel more locked in this position, and there's a lot of pressure on them. May be I have weird elbows :-)

Jen said...

Thanks for the elbow reminder.

What are your thoughts about tensing of the glutes in this pose (and cobra)? I often encourage students to release the lower back and glutes by slightly internally rotating the inner thighs. But many say they can't do this. Do you have any other suggestions?