Jess Blake, based out of YogaWorks, is best known for her thoughtful sequencing with an emphasis on alignment and stability. In her classes, she invites students to challenge themselves without losing sight of the simplicity and joy that can be found within the practice. Here, she breaks down the basics of upward facing dog with and without props:
YogaCity NYC: What pose did you choose and why do you like it?
Jess Blake: I have chosen urdhva mukha svanasana. It is a significant backbend that opens the entire front of the body while strengthening the back of the body. It is one of the most commonly included backbends in yoga classes, but the alignment is often overlooked as it is part of the flowing surya namaskara A and B sequences.
YCNYC: Describe the anatomy of the first pose and the body parts engaged.
JB: The hands are on blocks, which offer more space to the upper body, allowing the upper arms to roll back the collarbones to spread wide and the shoulder blades to press in towards the upper spine. This is a great option for practicioners with stiffness in the front of the chest and upper back. The blocks also highlight the importance of rooting the hands down in order to rebound up through entire upper body so that the tops of the shoulders don’t shrug up next to the ears, compressing the neck.
YCNYC: What body parts are engaged in the second pose?
JB: Pressing the inner thighs into a block activates the muscles that help internally rotate the thighs, so that there is more space to lengthen the lower back (as opposed to external rotation of the thighs, which compresses the sacrum and low back when backbending). Also, the the blocks serve as a helpful reminder to actually engage the legs and keep them lifted! Many people let their legs drop too far down towards the floor. This puts way too much strain on the lower back!
YCNYC: What is the overall effect of the third pose on the body, and what does this one add to the understanding of the pose, and mind.
JB: This third version of the pose is my favorite! Because the body is so much farther from the pull of gravity, there is a lightness to the backbend that is harder to find when close to the floor. It offers a more even arc of backbend across the entire spine, so it’s a great choice for beginners, or anyone with injuries or back pain that is looking for a more spacious choice.