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. Backbend beginnings: Although you might not recognize it, Upward Facing Dog actually acts as a backbend. Pull your chest forward and through: People tend to hang out in Upward Facing Dog and focus on pushing up through their arms. The Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar) – which is also referred to as “Salute to the Sun” is a series of postures that you perform in a flowing sequence.
The benefits of this series of poses are that it is great as an effective warm-up practice, increases your flexibility and tones your all-important abdominal muscles. Tip: On days when you think you have no time for yoga, try and do at least one or two rounds of the Sun Salutation.
There are many modifications that can be applied to this series of movements that will make it safe for every body and every level. Typically from standing, we would inhale into upward hand pose (reaching up) then exhale into a forward fold, and then transition back into plank pose, with an exhale, continuing into Chaturanga. In table top, hands and knees are on the floor, hands under the shoulders, and knees under the hips. When practicing the Vinyasa transition, focus on widening across the upper back in four limbed staff pose. To maintain connection to your foundation and also to protect your low back from over compressing, the elbows should stay over the wrists throughout the transition from plank pose into cobra pose.
If you find it difficult to maintain a diagonal line in the body in plank pose, modify by dropping the knees down.

Chaturanga, or four limbed staff, can also be modified by dropping the knees down, then the thighs, then the hips, and finally the belly, to prepare for cobra. The modified transition will strengthen the arms and core and provide the same benefits as the straight leg variation. In an all-levels class, many teachers start off with Cobra Pose, a gentle alternative to 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. 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.
Underutilizing your legs, chest, and shoulder muscles in Upward Dog is a big mistake, since those are what should be working in the pose. It is a backbend that helps improve posture, increases flexibility of the spine and shoulders, and strengthens the core, the arms, wrists, and legs. It is a pose that is step two in one of the most basic and commonly used Vinyasa Yoga transitions. There are also several benefits to this transition, which is why it is such a common bridge between poses. But to set you up for plank, let’s start in Table Top pose to properly align the very first pose of this transition.
To lower down, preparing for Cobra (Bhujangasana), exhale, come all the way onto the belly, lowering the thighs, hips and belly down, keep the top ribs lifted.
Keep the elbows bent and pointing back toward the waist, and as you root down through the pelvic area, inhale, and curl up into a low backbend.
As the class progresses and spines are warmed up, the option to move into the more intense Upward Facing Dog is offered.

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. 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. This series of movements takes you from the top of your mat into Downward Facing Dog, as a transition into standing postures.
First, let’s look at the transition, and then go over benefits, and finally, break the transition down into focus points and modifications. Shoulders move onto the back as the gaze starts to gently move toward the ceiling, underneath the eyebrows. Exhale, lift the hips up and back take your gaze to the belly button, and straighten out the arms and legs.
The thighs will activate in cobra, and the hips and pelvic region will become a strong foundation point throughout the backbend. Workshops could be taught just on this basic transition that you will find in most Vinyasa classes and some Hatha Yoga classes. The back and the neck should remain long and free of compression, especially in cobra pose. Engage the inner thighs to activate the core and to keep the shoulders, hips, and heels level in four limbed staff pose. As you exhale, lower down into four limbed staff pose (Chaturanga Dandasana), bending the elbows over the wrists,and keeping the triceps parallel with the floor.

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