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Puppy Pose In Yoga: Benefits, Technique, and Variations

Puppy Pose In Yoga: Benefits, Technique, and Variations

In this article: Discover more about puppy pose in yoga and its benefits!

This article was reviewed by a certified yoga teacher.

Practicing yoga often leads to the discovery of poses that are both challenging and calming.

Among these is Puppy Pose, known as Anahatasana in Sanskrit, an asana that serves as a middle ground between the resting Child’s Pose and the more demanding Downward-Facing Dog.

Ideal for yogis of all levels, Puppy Pose is a versatile asana that can be integrated into any practice.

It is especially beneficial for enhancing flexibility, particularly in the upper body.

It’s also a therapeutic pose that relieves tension built up in the back and shoulders, often a consequence of our sedentary, screen-bound lifestyles.

As a mild inversion, Puppy Pose provides the benefit of reversing blood flow, without the intensity of a full inversion pose.

It’s also a pose that teaches patience and the art of letting go.

Whether used as a warm-up for deeper backbends or as a standalone practice to unwind, Puppy Pose offers a nurturing break in the flow of a dynamic sequence, allowing yogis to reconnect with their breath and center their focus.

It’s a humble yet powerful posture that prepares both the body and mind for a deeper exploration of the self through yoga.

Read on to learn more about Puppy Pose in yoga and discover the many benefits of this soothing posture.

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Proper Technique for Puppy Pose

Here’s how to achieve the proper technique for this serene yet rejuvenating asana:

Begin on your hands and knees, aligning your hips over your knees and your shoulders above your wrists.

This starting tabletop position is your foundation, which sets the stage for proper alignment.

Walk your hands forward as you exhale, extending your arms fully while keeping your hips stacked over your knees.

The aim is to stretch the spine and shoulders, so ensure your hands are shoulder-width apart and your fingers are spread wide.

Gently lower your chest and chin towards the floor, or, for a less intense stretch, bring your forehead to rest on the mat.

This should create a beautiful arc in your spine, opening up the shoulder blades and extending the thoracic region.

Activate your arms by pressing firmly into the palms and lifting the elbows and forearms off the ground.

This engagement prevents collapsing into the shoulders and maintains the integrity of the pose.

Allow your neck to be a natural extension of your spine, avoiding any strain by keeping the head either neutral or slightly extended, depending on your comfort level.

Breathe deeply and focus on releasing tension in the shoulders with each exhale. The stretch should be strong but not painful.

Maintain the pose for 30 seconds to a minute and allow your heart to sink towards the floor as you breathe, deepening the stretch with each exhale.

To release the pose, walk your hands back towards your knees as you inhale, lifting your forehead off the mat and returning to the tabletop position.

You can rest in Child’s Pose for a few breaths.

Remember, in Puppy Pose, the emphasis is on stretching the spine and opening the chest, so it’s crucial to keep the hips high and the arms active.

Common Mistakes and How to Correct Them

Collapsing Into the Shoulders

  • Why It Happens: Lack of strength and engagement in the arms and shoulders, or simply forgetting to press firmly into the ground.
  • How to Correct: Focus on pressing the palms into the mat and lifting the forearms and elbows. This action helps to engage the muscles around the shoulder girdle and maintain the structural integrity of the pose.

Hips Too Far Forward

  • Why It Happens: A tendency to shift the weight forward, which can happen if there’s a lack of awareness about the hip alignment over the knees.
  • How to Correct: Ensure that the hips are stacked directly above the knees. Use a mirror for feedback or practice the pose with your hips touching a wall to maintain proper alignment.

Overarching the Lower Back

  • Why It Happens: Overcompensation for tight shoulders or attempting to reach the chest to the ground without proper flexibility.
  • How to Correct: Engage the core by drawing the navel towards the spine to support and stabilize the lower back. Keep the spine long and the hips lifted.

Neck Strain

  • Why It Happens: Pushing the head too far towards the mat or lifting it too high, which can put unnecessary stress on the neck.
  • How to Correct: Keep the neck as a natural extension of the spine. Choose to either rest the chin, forehead, or even the chest on the mat, depending on your level of flexibility and comfort.

Not Using Props When Needed 

  • Why It Happens: Some practitioners might not realize that props can be beneficial or might be hesitant to use them out of a sense of pride or purism.
  • How to Correct: If the chest doesn’t comfortably reach the ground, place a bolster or folded blanket under it for support. This can help maintain proper form without sacrificing the depth of the stretch.

Forgetting to Breathe 

  • Why It Happens: Concentration on physical alignment sometimes leads to neglecting the breath, which is central to yoga practice.
  • How to Correct: Consciously breathe deeply and rhythmically throughout the pose, using each exhale to release tension and deepen the stretch. This will also help in maintaining focus and presence in the pose.
puppy pose yoga

Credit: Koldunov/iStockPhoto

Puppy Pose Benefits

Opens the Shoulder Girdle

Puppy Pose is particularly beneficial for those who experience tightness in their shoulders and upper back.

By extending the arms and pressing the chest towards the ground, the pose encourages the shoulder blades to move closer together.

This action can help open up the shoulder girdle.

It can also alleviate the chronic shoulder tension that often results from prolonged sitting, promoting better posture and increased range of motion.

Stretches the Spine

In Puppy Pose, the spine is extended fully, which helps stretch and elongate the vertebral column.

This can be especially soothing for individuals with mild stiffness or discomfort in their back.

The gentle traction obtained by pulling the hips back while reaching the hands forward encourages the spinal muscles to relax.

It can also aid in the relief of tension headaches caused by neck and upper back strain.

Calms the Mind

The forward-bending nature of Puppy Pose creates an inward-focused state that can have a calming effect on the mind.

As a mild inversion, it also encourages a sense of tranquility and can help reduce stress and anxiety.

The pose invites practitioners to slow down, focus on their breathing, and enter a meditative state, contributing to improved mental clarity and emotional balance.

Prepares the Body for Deeper Stretches

Regularly practicing Puppy Pose in yoga can prepare the body for more advanced asanas that require open shoulders and a flexible spine.

Gently stretching the hip flexors, shoulders, and spine creates the conditions necessary for practicing deeper backbends and shoulder stretches.

This preparatory pose plays a key role in progressing safely and effectively in your yoga practice.

Variations of Puppy Pose

Extended Puppy Pose

How to Perform

Begin in a tabletop position and slowly walk your hands forward, allowing your chest and chin to drop towards the floor.

Keep your hips stacked over your knees to maintain the integrity of the stretch. 

Benefits

This variation increases the intensity of the shoulder and chest opening, offering a deeper stretch that can enhance flexibility over time.

It also encourages better breathing by opening the thoracic spine.

Muscles Worked

Extended Puppy Pose targets the trapezius and latissimus dorsi muscles in the back, as well as the deltoids and pectoralis major in the shoulders and chest.

It promotes both strength and flexibility.

Puppy Pose with a Twist

How to Perform

From standard Puppy Pose, reach your right hand towards the left under your body (similar to Thread the Needle), allowing your shoulder and temple to rest gently on the floor.

Repeat on the other side for balance.

Benefits

Adding a twist to Puppy Pose provides a gentle compression to the abdominal organs, which can aid digestion and detoxification.

The twisting motion also increases the lateral stretch in the spine.

Muscles Worked

This variation engages the oblique muscles due to the twisting action, and works the rhomboids and serratus anterior as they help stabilize the shoulder in the twist.

Puppy Pose with Blocks

How to Perform

Place two yoga blocks under your forearms with your elbows shoulder-width apart to deepen the stretch.

Ensure your arms are parallel to each other and press down into the blocks as your chest moves towards the ground.

Benefits

Using blocks helps to create more space and depth in the stretch.

It also makes it more accessible for those with tight shoulders and less flexibility.

It also helps to maintain proper alignment throughout the pose.

Muscles Worked

This variation continues to work the same muscles as the standard Puppy Pose, but the use of blocks can intensify the engagement of the deltoids and pectorals while supporting the joints.

Contraindications for Puppy Pose

Shoulder Injuries

Individuals with existing shoulder injuries should approach Puppy Pose with caution.

The pose places a significant amount of stress on the shoulder joints and the surrounding muscles.

This could exacerbate pain or further injure the area.

It is advisable to consult with a healthcare provider before attempting this pose and consider modifications or alternative poses that do not strain the shoulders.

Knee Problems

Puppy Pose requires pressure to be placed on the knees, which can be problematic for those with knee issues such as arthritis or meniscus injuries.

To prevent discomfort or injury, you should consider using a folded blanket or a cushion under the knees for added support.

If pain persists, it may be best to avoid the pose entirely and seek alternatives that do not place weight on the knees.

Neck Strain

If one has a neck strain or a cervical spine injury, it is crucial to maintain a neutral neck in Puppy Pose or avoid the pose.

Your head and neck should be in line with the spine, and not drooping down, to prevent additional strain.

You should focus on elongating the spine from the tailbone to the crown of the head.

If there is any discomfort, keep the head lifted slightly with the support of a block or folded blanket.

High Blood Pressure

Those with high blood pressure may need to be careful when practicing Puppy Pose in yoga.

The head-down position can lead to a rush of blood to the head, potentially increasing blood pressure further.

It’s important to keep the heart elevated above the head in this case.

One might prefer a less intense forward bend or a modified version where the chest and head are lifted.

Always check with a doctor before practicing yoga if you have high blood pressure.

puppy pose yoga posture

Credit: Viktor_Gladkov/iStockPhoto

Advanced Poses Prepared by Puppy Pose

Headstand (Sirsasana)

The arm positioning and shoulder strength developed in Puppy Pose are foundational for Headstand.

As practitioners press their forearms and elbows into the ground in Puppy Pose, they learn the necessary engagement and stability needed for Headstand.

Additionally, Puppy Pose helps to open the upper back and shoulders.

This is essential for maintaining a straight and supported Headstand, reducing the strain on the neck.

Forearm Stand (Pincha Mayurasana)

Building shoulder stability and flexibility through Puppy Pose is key to mastering Forearm Stand.

The pose teaches the engagement of the shoulder girdle and the core, as well as the action of pressing down through the forearms.

These are crucial for finding balance and alignment in Forearm Stand.

Puppy Pose also encourages practitioners to develop the awareness of shoulder and hip alignment that is needed to maintain a straight vertical line in Forearm Stand.

Wild Thing (Camatkarasana)

The flexibility in the shoulders and thoracic spine encouraged by Puppy Pose is beneficial for transitioning into Wild Thing.

By opening up these areas, practitioners can easily reach the arm overhead and arch the spine when flipping over into Wild Thing.

Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana)

Puppy Pose is a gentle way to begin working on the flexibility required for the intense upper body opening in Wheel Pose.

It also builds the arm strength needed to push the ground away, which is a key action in lifting into Wheel Pose.

The focus on breath control and back body awareness in Puppy Pose also helps to ensure that you approach Wheel Pose with attentiveness.

King Pigeon Pose (Raja Kapotasana)

As a deep backbend and hip opener, King Pigeon Pose requires substantial flexibility in the shoulders and spine.

This is what practicing Puppy Pose in yoga helps to cultivate.

The stretch provided by Puppy Pose in the shoulders and chest also allows for a more comfortable reach back in King Pigeon Pose.

Bottom line

Puppy Pose is a basic yoga asana that offers a multitude of health benefits.

Not only does it enhance strength, flexibility, and focus but it also promotes a deep sense of calm. This makes this wonderful yoga posture a valuable addition to any practice.

Do you practice Puppy Pose in yoga? Let me know in the comments below!

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