In my early twenties, I was a yoga dipped pretzel junkie. I wanted to explore what directions of movement my body could do, and thought it felt just fine at the time. Whether I should do them or not, in body weighted inversions or not, never came into my mind. I was all about the “show” and would return to the pose throughout the day to get the same sensation of stretch or elation. I wasn’t aware of any problems of the repetitive excessive mobility or questioned whether I should focus on one pose more than another. I was unaware that yoga asanas were originally designed by the yogis as an individual prescription of specific poses to improve one’s health. My favorites were Downward Facing Dog, Shoulder Stand and other arm balances that could amuse, but would eventually cause instability when combined with my daily habits.
College was physically, mentally and emotionally stressful. With too much time at the ol’ word processor, bad habits started to creep into my postural muscles and my leg muscles shortened like deflated accordions. What once felt good in my yoga practice started to make me feel like I really didn’t know what was going on and began to question the temperament of my Downward Facing Dog pose. Was I supposed to compromise my back to stretch my hamstrings, gain shoulder strength but lean more towards strengthening internal rotation from too much typing? I love Jill Miller’s Yoga Tune Up® pose, Dolphin Supinate. Training your Dolphin before training your Dog makes great sense. By influencing the strength of the external rotators (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis) and shoulder depressors (serratus anterior and lower fibers of trapezius), the shoulder will be stable and keep the biceps tendon happy and free. In order to keep the variety of students’ shoulders (many coming straight off a computer or smart phone) stable and behaved in Downward Facing Dog Pose, I first teach Dolphin Supinate.
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As a yogi who struggles getting my heels down, or often straightening my knees at the start of practice, realizing that the issue might be my shoulders was mind-blowing. I’ve been blaming my hamstrings all along! Time to incorporate more dolphin into my practice…
DD is not for everyone! Such an important message. The pose isn’t the goal. A lifetime of healthy shoulders is the goal. This is a simple diagnostic test that tells the truth of any existing shoulder rotator imbalances. You also offer a great alternative to regress the pose back to its building blocks, and bring awareness to external rotation and stabilization.
Thank you! I think I am messing up my shoulders. I notice that the shoulders, specially the right one, internally rotates when I push myself back to downward facing dog, even if externally rotated well before I push myself up. I am afraid to practice yoga now as I feel pain in my shoulders. I also recently came back from a 200 hrs intensive yoga training where we practiced a lot. Any suggestions on how to work on this? Or is it the end of my asana practice?
I’m currently attending Jill’s YTU Level 1 training and we cover this pose on the 3 day. I really like this variation to help those who don’t have enough external shoulder rotation. By the way, i noticed one error on the blog subscapularis is an internal shoulder rotator.
This is such a great post. Too many people jump into Downward Dog when they aren’t ready and mess up their shoulders. This is such a great test to determine if they are ready and then how to prepare them to advance their practice properly. Thank you.
We covered Dolphin supinate today in our 70hr training with Jill. I’ve seen this pose instructed a few times in YogaWorks classes, and you are absolutely correct, it is a great conditioning drill for all of the action of the shoulders to step up their game. For those considering a bit of extra fire in their practice, I also recommend taking the dolphin airborne and looking for a full forearm stand with the forearms “upside down.” A great challenge but useful tool in self-calibration.
Such an interesting twist to create healthful shoulders with the Dolphin Supinate transferring that body awareness into Downward Facing Dog. what a great way for a very beginner to learn downward facing dog the right time from the get go!
Wow – I always called dolphin the ‘Satan’ pose. In supinate position, it is genius! I really like the ‘legal test’ for down dog… so simple for all students to do, and so clear. I had not even made the connection that Jill made in the video about those with tight forearms even typing in internal rotation (as I am trying not to do right now). Just one more example of why YTU is helping us to understand our body blind spots in a really clear fashion. Thanks!
It’s funny to me to look at downward facing dog as an advanced pose, because it is used so frequently in classes. Looking at downward facing facing dog in this way brings the realization that all yoga asanas are advanced exercises and often misused to program the workout of the day. In our YTU teacher training we learn that the pose of the day or “peak pose” is programmed bringing the components to together to earn and learn the proper use of the pose. I enjoy this method because the journey for every body in the classroom is going to be different and everyone can be part of that journey whether they reach the peak or not.
Such a simple test to see if a student is a candidate for DD. I’ve definitely heard the saying that “some poses weren’t meant for all people” (like the really difficult ones, is what I thought), but I would have never believed DD would be one of those poses. Thank you Jill and Amanda for opening my eyes (and shoulders) to a whole new way of looking at poses, students, the practice and what the true purpose of the practice should be…prolonging health. I will definitely add in dolphin supinate before the first DD.
We did a mini-workshop on Downward Dog and Dolphin Supinate in my YTU embodied anatomy training. It was eye-opening and helped me gain better proprioception of what was/is happening in my shoulders in Downward Dog. I’ve already brought a little bit of this into my classes, and I’ve seen other students’ Downward Dogs literally change shape. It’s mind-boggling that we do this pose so frequently but often with so little awareness of how to do it safely.
However, I was also struck by this video from ASFYT which landed in my email in-box this morning, suggesting that we can also cause problems by taking external rotation of the shoulders TOO FAR in Downward Dog. https://youtu.be/YQp_FgzMoEA Always good to get multiple perspectives and find the middle way.
I agree with you regarding teaching Dolphin Supinate before Downward Facing Dog. In the beginning I pushed myself through the poses even if it hurt or was uncomfortable. No one mentioned internal or external rotation of the shoulders so I mimicked others in the class. Unfortunately many instructors do not take the time to demonstrate or explain the poses. Starting at the beginning , aka Dolphin Supinate and working up to, if possible, Downward Facinfg Dog is definitely a safer way to teach.
Great article about progressions before you complete downward dog in a class setting. As a student I would have greatly benefited from this level of instruction and support from my teacher– until Yoga Tune Up certification training I was never properly taught how to complete the down dog safely and yet many of my yoga classes come to this pose multiple times in the hour session.
graet article i also was having issues and realized my down dog that i did daily might be the culprit after much obeservation i realized i was doing the dog wrong , So started doing dolphin supinate and love it!
This post is an awesome exposition of how and why to teach dolphin supinate. I am glad of the opportunity to explore external rotation of the shoulders. I also like the alternative, offered in the comments by Betsey, of moving from Sphinx to Mega Plank to Dolphin Supinate in flows.
After reviewing both of these poses in training I was surprised by how technical each pose could be. Practicing Dolphin Supinate helped me to realize that the reason my Downward Dog felt so uncomfortable was that I just wasn’t ready for it. I’ve been in many classes where downward dog is used as a part of a warm up and now I feel like I can let myself of the hook and practice my dolphin instead.
Great point Amanda! I find that growing up a dancer has presented a similar set of challenges for myself, but more specifically in the hip region. Years of maximizing their mobility and going to extremes just for the “show” have definitely taken a toll, although I didn’t feel it at the time.
I have always loved this variation of the pose and my shoulders have felt so much more stable here. I am so glad to understand why from an anatomical standpoint. Thank you for this post!
We did this in class today. It was eye opening to understand the impact of the “bad” rotation of the humerus in certain poses. I learned so much by seing the movement on the body and sheer created by the unhealthy patterns.
thanks for the blog
Great Yoga Tune Up Video. Downward Dog is so hard! Many teachers teach it as a resting pose between Vinyasas or sequences, and it’s easy to just let the Dog go to the dogs when your shoulders get tired. Downward Dog requires external rotation of the shoulder, and – something we’re not used to doing in our every lives – promotion of the forearm. And it is so much work to stabilise the arm bones into their sockets but also stabilise the shoulder blades on the ribcage. I’m sweating just writing about it!
What struck me most about doing the Dolphin Supinate is the imbalance that it shows in the body. In need to do Dophine supinate on the right side and regular Dolphin on the left. What would that look like? I need to try it out.
Great way to begin to discern a students ability to do downdog. This pose tells whether a student can perform down dog safely.
Just like Jared, this was my first exposure to Dolphin Supinate. I have been taught to find external rotation in the shoulders in downward facing dog in previous trainings, but I was unsure of how to show this to students who might not understand the concept completely. I will definitely be bringing this pose back to my students and teaching them how to downdog safely!
This is my first exposure to Dolphin supinate pose. I really like it because of how it automatically controls the environment for the student practicing to be successful. This is what Carl Paoli refers to as a blocked movement. I have recently started cuing my CrossFit clients to grab the oar of the rowing machine with a supinated grip. Connecting the dots!!!
This is yet one more of the many reasons I am so thankful to be on this Yoga Tune Up journey. I have been teaching yoga for 8 years, knowing full well that Downward Dog is not easily accessible for all students, but didn’t know WHY or HOW to assess and adjust. And simply telling someone that they aren’t a good candidate for Downward Dog doesn’t really sit well with many yogis. This is a great way to train towards a pose that is so often a staple of a yoga class, without much explanation or mechanical assessment.
My last few year’s of yoga training (therapeutic yoga training), the light bulb has finally gone off in my head. i have come to realize and understand that not all people should be practicing a DDog. If they do not have the ROM to externally rotate their shoulders and pronate their forearms… why put them through this pose? i have decided to have the students practice the Dolphin pose (and supinate) with a block first and see how they progress. Thank you~!
This assessment tool for goodness of fit in Downward facing dog is brilliant! Thank you for posting! It will be used time and time again in my classes. Like most yoga teachers, I always stress the importance of external rotation in the shoulder socket when my students are practicing this pose, but many students simply cannot do it for lack of flexibility and strength in the agonist and antagonist muscles. Having a means of actually measuring readiness for Down Dog PROIR to being in the pose is huge! And I am so excited to introduce Dolphin Supinate as a strengthening and opening alternative to the Downward Facing Dog where applicable. I can also see using this in a Vinyasa Flow class, moving from Spinx to Mega Plank to Dolphin Supinate could be a great alternative to the typical Chaturanga, Cobra, Downward Facing Dog flow. Yay!
Having practiced yoga for a little over 3 years I thought my down dog was in pretty good shape. But after taking the Emodied Anatomy workshop with Trina Altman and going through the step by step, DOM assessment I found a lot of weak areas. It was very eye-opening. Not only did it alert me to my weaknesses it gave me a wealth of knowledge I can carry to my students.
This is a very clear demonstration of the bio mechanics of the shoulder joint which I think plenty of students, as well as instructors would gain insight from. There’s certainly an expectation, I believe, to teach certain poses, for a class to feel like a “true” yoga class. This video does an excellent job of highlighting the fact, that not every “body” is built for every pose, Through a better understanding of the body mechanics however, we can offer up alternatives, to better suit a students individual need.
Wow, thanks for the simple, yet eye-opening assessment tool! My left arm has full external rotation, but my right arm is a slightly less than complete. If I am dedicated to using dolphin supinate several times a week, do you think it will eventually allow my right arm to fully externally rotate? Even if it doesn’t, can I occasionally still do down dog (which I love) with this new body awareness? Thanks!
Teaching in a healthclub I see yoga newbies all the time. This video is such a valuable tool to help assess students Downdog readiness before they get themselves into a compromised position. I am a fan of Dophin pose anyway and love this justification to use it.
I have taught dolphin supinate and downward facing dog separately in my classes but after reading this article and thinking it through, it makes so much sense to do dolphin supinate first..I will be using this approach ..Thanks!
This was such a helpful post. Today in our yoga tuneup training, we learned about blind spot, and this video was excellent in showing an easy and painless tip on determining if a shoulder is a safe candidate for down dog.This is a great alternative to offer in classes. Thanks!
Great instruction on determining if your shoulders are suited for downdog. Little did I know one shoulder is so much more suited than the other!?
I am like you, Amanda. Everyone calls me the pretzel wherever i go. Now I focus on strengthening my shoulder rather than my hamstrings since I always great flexibility on my whole body. Dolphin pose is such a great pre pose for my downward facing dog. It helps me to get into the proper shoulder alignment. Instead of putting all the pressure on my anterior deltoid, i learn to retract my shoulder blade back. That can save the joint damage in the future.
I recently have been looking at this pose as I teach my students because I read an article about NOT rolling your shoulders down your back as this moves the scapula out of a stable position. This video and blog really makes sense to shoulder stabilization. I love the test where you hold your arm out, grasp the elbow, and then rotate the lower arm to see if you can flatten your palm without internally rotating and/or elevating your shoulder. Dolphin pose is a wonderful way to start.
Loved the shoulder assessment with the block. Super great way to test a client rotational ability!
I recently learned Downward Dog from the perspective of a peak pose and it was completely mind-blowing. So often Downward Dog is treated as a warm up, and no doubt a transitory pose, and sometimes offered as a resting pose. There is a lot going on in this pose, and I see well trained yogis in this pose and even shoulder stand when I now understand that maybe they shouldn’t be or that there are more effective ways of getting into good position. Dolphin pose (supinate), has been something I’ve used towards the end of the practice, but now I will use it early on!
I never fully understood the implications of internal rotation in shoulder flexion – but now it’s crystal clear! looking forward to sharing this pose with my yoga classes and helping them to strengthen and re-train their shoulders and hopefully keep shoulders healthy and happy.
Loved watching this video!! So much to learn about proper alignment in even what is thought of as an easy pose. I have found there is so very much to lean!! Thank you for sharing!!
What’s interesting to me, is that I knew that loading the shoulders in a flexed position required external rotation, however, I think I still internally rotated them sometimes during downward dog!
Like Erin, I too experienced downward dog day at Yoga Tune Up training — it was a welcomed eye opener to learn about proper external rotation of the shoulder and how to teach the student how to get there safely. I have been teaching it only because I picked it up from my yoga mentors. However, when I would take a class for myself with other teachers, I was surprised to hear ….. yep, NOTHING about it. How very strange given we are joint loading our students with very little instruction to keep this precious area healthy. I want my students to stay safe in their practice and to enjoy yoga — and come back — without this emphasis, but more so, giving them the tools to awaken the external rotators and depressors of the shoulder — i.e. dolphin supinate. Thank you for making my Down Dog day complete!
Realizing that downward facing dog and shoulder stand are not poses that I should be doing given my limited external rotation in the shoulder joint was eye-opening. Glad there are alternatives.
What is amazing to me is that my body knew this but my mind would ignore what my body was telling it. I would try to follow cues that really didn’t make sense to me. So great to find ways to prove to the mind that the body really is the boss when doing yoga!
Reviewed this in yoga tuneup training today. I really value this assessment for finding a body blind spot. As a yoga teacher of 6 years I have found now one of my blind spots – that is how I have been teaching downward dog! I haven’t paid close enough attention to the external rotation of shoulder and potential overloading of the shoulders. I will use this assessment in my next class and offer dolphin supinate as an alternate. Thanks.