Upward Facing Dog is not Cobra. However, it does begin that way, then takes its own unique route.
Think of Urdhva Mukha Svanasana / Upward Facing dog as a suspension bridge, where the arms, forearms and shoulders are the support on one side, and the knees, ankles and feet are the support on the other side. The suspended portion being the chest, abdomen, pelvis and thighs.
Like my post on Headstand, there are STAGES to Upward Facing Dog (UFD). And as with Headstand, there are FOUR Stages.
As with Cobra, UFD begins with the chin on the floor, hands at chest level, but slightly lower than what you would have for Cobra. The top of the feet are on the floor and the great toes touching.
Just as with Cobra, pull/drag the body slightly forward, THEN lift the head and shoulders upward. At all times, the lower body should be engaged, so not slack/relaxed. In this way, as soon as you reach the edge of your upward lifting in the spine/back, the elbows fully extend so that the upper body is now supporting the entire body.
Again, the entire body is engaged .. do not relax the lower body here. Now .. at this juncture .. lift the heart/chest higher than the shoulders .. or, another way to look at it .. allow the shoulders to relax downwards so their natural triangulated point aligns with the kidneys, activating the Pranic line.
That is STAGE ONE.
Now – and again, with the entire body engaged – flex the feet so the toes are on the floor .. one at a time. The knees stay down at this time, so take a moment to adjust the foot position. This is STAGE TWO .. where the gastrocnemius and the quadriceps are working as antagonists. Lol .. or, if your gonna cramp, its gonna be here.
The relationship between these two .. the calves and quads .. determines how far the pelvis will be able to relax or assume its suspended position. Which is also directly related to any stress one may experience due to underdeveloped calves, quads or pelvic bowl.
Remember, STAGES are essential because they allow us to GRADUALLY develop, instead of simply coming into a pose and injuring our self. Further, in gradual development, we are better able to sense then be aware of Prana, which allows us to then begin its cultivation and storage.
Next, slowly lift the knees off the earth, so that the entire body is suspended. This is also where the ‘middle’ part of the body (not hands/arms/shoulders, and not ankles/feet) becomes ‘soft’ or suspended.
This is STAGE THREE, and where one can also play/layla with having either the goes curled under or with the tops of the toes on the earth (body still suspended). The latter is far more challenging in that the urge is to return to a tense position (or Cobra).
As in all Yoga poses, breathing is CRITICAL. In fact, this is the first line that demarcates physical exercise from Yogic exercise. In this case, breath in Cobra is NOT the same as breath in Upward Facing Dog.
And herein begins STAGE FOUR .. gently swaying side to side or forward and back, as a suspension bridge would. In fact, just like in Downward Facing Dog .. Western Yoga has long forgotten the Traditional Yoga wisdom that teaches how both Dog poses are BREATHING poses. Otherwise, it is this swaying / suspended movement that opens the thoracic inhalation and exhalation, allowing the spine to deepen into the Wheel (backbend) movements. This is what makes Upward Facing Dog – when done properly, as described above – so beneficial in helping those with stiff spines open into the more challenging backward bending poses.
Prem and Metta!