Urdhva mukha svanasana: stoking the fire with Dog Head Up, by Karen Long

The clocks changed last weekend heralding the official start of British wintertime. I don't know why these months remind me so much of childhood but they do. The kicking up of golden leaves as I tramped back from school, the excitement of bonfire night, those smells...

There are grown-up pleasures to be had too. Who isn’t seduced by the idea of wrapping up and going for a long walk, of sitting in front of a log fire, of lighting candles at home, of eating those wonderful seasonal fruits and vegetables, of just enveloping ourselves in a duvet on the sofa with a good book or the latest box set!

Yoga teaches us to be where we are rather than grasping for where we are not. Mr Iyengar talks about yoga enabling us to ‘change that which cannot be endured and to endure that which cannot be changed’. So rather than wishing away these months I want to make the most of them. There is a romance to these shorter days.

Another quote from Mr Iyengar that I love is this one:
‘Yoga is a light which, once lit, will never dim. The better your practice, the brighter the flame’.

The yoga asanas that appeal to me now are the ‘fire’ postures – the backbends.
These postures are rejuvenating; they give energy and courage, filling up the reservoirs of hope and optimism within. One that can be practiced easily at home is dog pose head up. You just need a clean floor or, ideally, a yoga mat.

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana. A vigorous stretch of the front of the trunk.
Lie face down on the floor. Take the feet apart a foot or so and stretch the toes back. Bend the elbows and place the hands on the floor beside the chest, fingers spread and middle finger pointing forwards. Lift the knees up away from the mat and stretch the legs back.
With an inhalation press the hands and feet down and raise the chest and head. Straighten the arms and draw the chest forwards and up, through the arms. Bring the coccyx and sacrum forward and stretch the front of the body from the pubis. Lift the sternum and roll the shoulders back and down, pressing the shoulder-blades in. Look up without constricting the neck or throat and stay for 20-30 seconds breathing evenly.

Bend the arms and release down.

To get a better lift we sometimes use bricks under the hands in class and if you have bricks at home you can try this method.

Once you are able to be in the pose you can try combining Urdhva Mukha Svanasana with Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog). Alternate between the poses in quick succession, learning to flick the toes or roll the feet over the toes from one pose to the next. The movement between these postures will warm you further!