Down Dog: Friend or Foe?

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Downward facing dog is one of the most commonly taught poses in yoga class, but is it a good idea for your shoulders? One key element is the need to successfully keep your shoulders in external rotation and also pronate the forearm at the same time. Watch the video below to understand this important concept, and learn Dolphin Supinate pose, a good Down Dog alternative:

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Jill Miller

Jill Miller, C-IAYT, ERYT is the co-founder of Tune Up Fitness Worldwide and creator of the self-care fitness formats Yoga Tune Up® and The Roll Model® Method. With more than 30 years of study in anatomy and movement, she is a pioneer in forging relevant links between the worlds of fitness, yoga, massage, athletics and pain management. She is known as the Teacher’s Teacher and has trained thousands of movement educators, clinicians, and manual therapists to incorporate her paradigm shifting self-care fitness programming into athletic and medical facility programs internationally. She has crafted original programs for 24 Hour Fitness, Equinox, YogaWorks, and numerous professional sports teams. She and her team of 500+ trainers help you to live better in your body with an emphasis on proprioception, mobility, breath mechanics and recovery. She has presented case studies at the Fascia Research Congress and International Association of Yoga Therapy conferences. She has the rare ability to translate complex physiological and biomechanical information into accessible, relevant moves that help her students transform pain, dysfunction and injury into robust fitness. Jill is the anatomy columnist for Yoga Journal Magazine and has been featured in Shape, Men’s Journal, Good Housekeeping, Women’s Health, Yoga Journal, Self, and on the Today Show and Good Morning America. Jill is regularly featured on the Oprah Winfrey Network. She is the creator of dozens of DVD’s including Treat While You Train with Kelly Starrett DPT and is the author of the internationally bestselling book The Roll Model: A Step by Step Guide to Erase Pain, Improve Mobility and Live Better in your Body. Based in Los Angeles, CA, she is a wife and mother of two small children and is currently writing her second book.

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Circling back around at the end of YTU TT Day 3, and this is a perfect review. Thank you so much!


LOVE this, thank you.. a must watch!

Joy V

It’s very important to learn about the external rotation of the shoulders. Many poses in yoga have to use this technique but not many teachers remind or teach students this technique. The Dolphin Supinate is and excellent choice to get the similar benefit to Downward Dog.

Samantha Martin

This information is so helpful and so easy to show people because it’s black and white. I’ve used this test many times for students and so appreciate this video. I also think that the dolphin supinate is an excellent way to train the shoulders for external rotation.

Martine Kerr

We see a variation of down dog in a lot of other movement disciplines under various names. Unfortunately none I’ve come across yet has talked about who should perhaps not do it and why. This is really important information and such a quick test that anyone who teaches and does down ward dog and any derivatives. Having an alternative that isn’t seen as a cop out is also valuable to make sure students continue to feel challenged yet successful.


There are so many different debates on this pose. I know that external rotation has helped me better balance my weight in this pose and eliminated pain in my forearms from doing it incorrectly for so long. Great article and suggestions.


All this reflection on down dog is giving me so much food for thought. As a yoga teacher, mainly teaching vinyasa flow, down dog is such a big part of my students practice as well as my own. Deconstructing it and really working towards imprinting the understanding and movement/actioning of the pose is definitely something I will be spending more time on in classes. I Can’t wait to share all of this knowledge with my students!


Thank you for this. After learning in YTUTTL1 class yesterday that I am banned for life from doing down-dog (yay… :^/) I wanted to reinforce my knowledge of why, how and what it can damage. For example, in the past I’ve found dolphin to be far preferable to me for working into my shoulders – although more difficult, I felt I was getting more out of the pose as far as strengthening, coordinating and untying my shoulders, and doing so in a safer way. I knew this intuitively, but could neither understand nor articulate why. The light is starting to… Read more »


Oh hooray!
This video is a very good review of the work that we did in the training today. How marvelous that you provide alternative to Down Dog. I am glad to know that I can return to watch the video in future.


Have shared this technique with a few of my students and has really created greater awareness of maintaining external rotation while in Down dog. Thank you


I re-watched this video online as it is part of my DVD collection from Jill. This makes so much sense when she says we need to check both arms. My right arm when doing the arm out/pronate moves differently than my left arm. During yoga training, they focus so much on lifting hips and pushing off the heels of the hands, that this initial check of body movement would be so useful. I watched six of my yoga participants at my last training and it was incredible – I had six variations of downdog! People were doing all kinds of… Read more »


The combination of external rotation of the shoulders and pronation of the forearms is definitely unintuitive but makes a huge difference when performed correctly. It’s amazing how the YTU sequence that leads up Down Dog as a peak pose lets students really embody this positioning and perform Down Dog differently than they normally do.

Gina McKiernan

There’s one teacher that I work with that has said that down dog seems like the simplest pose, but it’s really not. Now I understand why. I’ve recently learned about the anatomical breakdown of down dog and shoulder rotation and it was such an eye opener for me. This video goes deeper into the pose and what is exactly going on. I had no idea that the shoulder were more stable in an external rotation. This is such a helpful video. I love that it has a “test” to see if your body is suitable for the down dog pose.… Read more »


What a wake up call for everyone who practices yoga! I loved our sequence during training that spent the entire class to prepare our bodies for our properly aligned down dogs. This simple but so very important assessment of ones body, should be a step to introduce students to new poses that will aid their bodies in performing their first ever proper down dog.

Stacy Jackson

So good to know about the assessment we should do with all of our students to see if they are safe in downward dog. Now I know what pose (Dolphin Supinate) is a good alternative to DD.

Veronica Dinehart

Down Dog has always been my foe! Downward Facing Dog is an important pose that is often overlooked in regards to proper stability. However, as a result of your in-depth analysis on this pose and precise language regarding the proper alignment I know what to focus on for my body to gain the proper shoulder rotation.

Marsha Marsha Marsha L.

Sooooo… my body blind spots are my shoulders! Can’t believe it, but I would have never discovered it had I not taken your YTU L1 training! My forearms are unable to supinate all the way while my shoulders are completely externally rotated. Now I know exactly why my d-dogs look the way they do in pictures. And now I know what it means when a yoga teacher says externally rotate your shoulders. I heard it, but didn’t know it, until I was embodied in it! This is definitely going to change my personal yoga practice and also the way I… Read more »

Sandy Gross

This is a very important video, easy to understand and most importantly, provides a method to test yourself. I have used this in my classes before and it always kind of shocks people that they thought simply rooting your thumb and index finger in dog pose, was the answer to set the shoulder. True, pressing there provides a firm surface from which to spin the arm into external rotation from, but the person may not be able to cultivate enough of a rotation to avoid any chafing in the shoulder joint during weight bearing such as in down dog. I… Read more »


very helpful! thank you

Michelle S.

I didn’t realize this. i always try to externally rotate my arm but this blog post really drives home the importance of that. It also shows how dangerous it can be to “over-do” it.

Ann F

In my classes, i have been trying to have my students adjust their own downdogs~ using opening a pickle jar with their hands. The right hand (without moving) attempts to open the jar clockwise, and the left counter clockwise. most of the time it works, the can feel their shoulders externally rotate. this gives me a great idea to test the students beforehand~ see if the DDog isn’t meant for their shoulders and teach the Dolphin Supinate to train the students to bring more awareness in their shoulders and forearms. thank you!


Man! I’ve been using the wrong alignment for my shoulders for years now! Can’t wait to give this a try tomorrow. Thank you for the help, Jill.


Virtually every yoga class I have been to outside of yoga tune up has used down dog as a staple pose. Before taking a yoga tune up class, I had no idea that engaging the external rotators and so many other muscles was so important to performing the pose correctly. I also didn’t know how the pose could be potentially harmful if done incorrectly. One of my postural imbalances that I am working on is an internal rotation of the shoulders. Not only would I do this while sitting, driving or typing, but I would also do that when I… Read more »

Katy Forline

The comment I love, that Jill makes, is that we do this all the time at our computers pronating to reach the center keys and pad of the lap top. How cool to become aware of this and add suggestions and poses to work to improve the shoulder’s external rotation for my own rotator cuff health and that of others!


Who knew? I am able to internally rotate my forearms while keeping my shoulders in external rotation, but thanks for the explanation of why this is so important. Would have appreciated this information a long time ago! and i’ll be sharing it with others. Also great to have an interesting alternative, if only to alternate with the classic pose.

Deepa Dravid

Thank You!!!!. .Eye opening for me and my students..

Christine Heroux

Great video! I had no idea that I should actually not be practicing this posture! I can’t pronate my right arm!!!


Thank you for this clear explanation of proper shoulder alignment in DD. I look forward to teaching this approach to help others find safe alignment and I love that I now have an alternative and warm up in my teaching toolbox. I find that even with the ability to pronate the lower arm while in external rotation at the shoulder joint DD is difficult for a lot of people when it doesn’t have to be, most likely due to movement patterns. I remember in my own body how different the pose felt when I finally understood how to be in… Read more »

Shakti Rowan

This is so informative and helpful. I am in my YTUTT this week and I’ve been wanting to better understand the relationship with the external rotation of the arm in downward dog and how to support and que. I’m so glad I woke up at 6am this morning to review this information. I think I will change my direction and do this assesment of the shoulder before I teach. Some students might need to do dolphin supinate. Thank you!


Thank you so much, Jill for this fabulous video which I will definitely be reviewing and referencing when I teach my students. In my YTU level 1 training we learned this yesterday and it was mind-blowing, especially the self-assessment test. I discovered that my palms do not pronate all the way, although with the assist you demonstrated and another great assist we learned for externally rotating the student’s shoulders with compression I found some relief. I loved your analogy of what we are essentially doing when we type at a computer and the shoulders are partially internally rotated – yikes!… Read more »

Jessica Greenfield

Whoa, what a great video! The dolphin supinate pose has helped me in my own practice to keep my shoulders are externally rotated, but as an aspiring yoga teacher I think the forearm supination test is a great way to work with students to see what’s going on in their own bodies and for us to work together to find the best style of downward dog for them. Thanks for sharing!


Definitely thinking about my down dog differently after watching this video and participating in Yoga Tune Up / Anatomy course this past weekend. It’s clear this pose is not as straightforward as many of us think. In fact, it seems to be one of the most complicated when you try to do it correctly, with so many counterintuitive things going on in body. I know I’ll be focusing on external shoulder rotation despite my tendency to twist them the opposite way in my next class.


This was really interesting to watch. As an aspiring yoga teacher, it is so important to learn that poses that have come generally easy to me can actually put a lot of strain and put students at risk of injury. Downward dog is a constant go to in a yoga class but I have never heard a teacher tell students with external shoulder rotation difficulty to modify the pose. I will definitely be mindful that the shoulder is at its weakest when internally rotated. I love that I can take this learning past the yoga mat, into everyday life, where… Read more »

Nadjiba Medjaoui

This is just mind blowing…..why don’t we never learn that in a yoga teacher training????


I found this test fascinating. I can’t wait to test my family and friends. Downward Facing Dog is the ubiquitous yoga pose. Everyone is expected to do it. Until now. Thank you Jill for explaining this and giving people permission to live comfortably in their own bodies, even encouraging them to do so!

Aaron Porter

In my Yoga Tune Up training today. We learned this test. Wow, What an eye opener. This video illustrates proper shoulder alignment and boy what a difference it makes. Today was there first day I actually felt “true and full external rotation in my shoulder joint.

Morgan Ward

This is one of my all time favorite videos! When I first started yoga I was definitely a victim to this, and along with retracting my shoulder blades during down dog I left my shoulders 100% vulnerable. I suffered from an impingement and didn’t realize what I was doing wrong until I took the YTU training. Since, in my classes I cringe when I see yogis making the same mistakes and I want to run to their rescue!


Very educational video! Until today I didn`t know that ones capability to rotate their shoulders is the key factor for a successful downward dog. I also love the alternative and the easy self assessment. Thanks!


I did this test with some of my corporate yogis, and found that a lot of the them had flexibility on one side but no the other. Incidentally the weaker unstable side, was the side they mouse with. This is consistent with view that external rotation creates stability, while internal rotation brings the shoulder out of alignment. Then compound this with the amount of time spent at the computer, and it’s a disaster waiting to happen. I am now experimenting and asking my corporate yogis to do one minute of pin the arms on the yogi while seated at their… Read more »

katie in montana

This was great and it got me thinking…with the shoulder being a ball and socket joint and the hip also being a ball and socket joint…do the same principles apply for the hip? Is the hip joint also the most stable in external rotation? Can the calves interfere with that stability of the hips similar to the the forearm interfering with the shoulder? Thanks so much.


A must share for me. Thanks ! Nancy


Jill, thanks for this amazing video, I loved it. In fact almost all the people think that down dog in Yoga it’s a must. I must practice on my dolphine supinate because I did the test and actually my right hand don’t pass the text. I hope due the practice of this dolphine improve my down dog..


I love that fact that you said the shoulder is most stable in external rotation. That is new info for me. It is also interesting because as I study swimming, more specifically, freestyle it seems as though much of the action is in a slight internal rotation to catch the water and even in the recovery portion of the stroke. Mechanically when catching the water, the motion is to keep the elbow high when going from the catch (entry of the water), adducted flexion of the shoulder to the pull where the shoulder becomes abducted, and the press, continuing the… Read more »


I cannot express how grateful I am to have learned this test and subsequent dolphin supinate pose. It will not only change how I work with my athletes tremendously but also how I warm up my own shoulder joints. It is an amazing warm-up and educational pose for the body before advancing to the more advanced Downward Facing Dog. Thank you!

Jason Campbell

I had been aware of Yoga Tune Up awhile before you posted this video, but this particular video was the one that made me decide that i absolutely had to study with you! I’m very happy I made that decision.

Linh Taylor

Great video for sharing with my yogi friends. This is one of the most important lessons in yogasana and shoulder rotation for me. Spot on. When I just started practicing, I thought it’s my mat which wasn’t grippy enough and prevented me from externally rotated my shoulders; then later I thought I just had weak forearm. Glad you pointed it out. I love the test to figure out whether one is ready for downward dog. Totally agree with you, this pose is not a resting pose at all.

Amanda Crutcher

Thanks Jill. Great info about how helpful it is for most of what we do to be in external rotation in our shoulders. What has been your experience with your students in gaining this range of motion? After practising Dolphine Supinate do you generally see a quick or slow gaining of the ability to externally rotate the shoulders to full range of motion? Are there some people who probably will never develope that range and should continue to avoid the full DFD pose?