One of the most common yoga poses, Downward Facing Dog, can be treacherous if your shoulders are not properly prepped or your anatomy is not compatible with the shape. While there is definitely a standard human “structure,” the effects of daily living and each person’s postural habits create body blind spots (points of weakness and imbalance), so not every pose is possible for every body. Many yoga poses, while common, are so extreme that they will pull the body out of alignment because the architecture of the pose is not suitable for the person attempting the pose. If you do poses (or any exercise, for that matter) without knowing whether you should even be doing those particular poses, much less doing them with improper form and posture, you will eventually wear out your tissues and create pain.
How do you determine if your anatomical structure is suited for Downdog? Check out the video below to assess the temperament of your Downward Facing Dog and learn an alternate pose to strengthen your shoulders.
Enjoyed this article? Read Assess The Temperament Of Your Dog Before You Master The Pose
Article très révélateur. Down Dog est l’une des postures les plus répandues en yoga, et pourtant, la faire incorrectement peut causer du dommage, comme de l’inflammation, des bursites, et autres problèmes. J’ai apprécié particulièrement les conseils sur la rotation externe de l’épaule, et l’information indiquant que l’épaule en rotation interne devient instable. Et que le même problème peut s’appliquer à d’autres poses/mouvement très populaires, comme la planche ou les push-ups. Je vais appliquer cette information dans mes classes. Merci!
Interesting – my left shoulder is slightly ‘off’ compared to the right – so this was a great check! It’s also great to know that there’s an alternative to downward dog.
Love this technique and will use it with my climbers!
One simple adjustment to fully stabilize the shoulder, this is brilliant!
This was fascinating! I am always looking for ways to show my students the best way to have their arms in DD. I usually say your arm is like a barber pole where the top is going in one direction and the bottom in the other direction. Your example of holding the elbow makes so much more sense and is way easier for a beginner student to understand. And I love that DD alternative with the block. Thank you!!
I like this smart check in for the shoulders in downward facing dog. A must read for everyone. Another thing I see when I look around at students in yoga studios is alot of rib thrusting creating more pressure on the shoulders and the spine is completely out of neutral.
so invaluable and so well explained! i will be adopting this with my students.
This summer I did the Yoga Tune Up Level 1! Wow! The way the body is prepared before doing asanas or as you mention in this video, doing alternative pose that respect the limitations of the body. I think that this is THE way of moving in a healthy way! Respecting the body and avoiding injuries! Thank you so much for insisting on educating people, it really is the key!
I have always had a tough time noticing where students fall short in DD, especially in the shoulder girdle region. Instead of externally rotating the shoulders of my students, I can have them do the arm test and then the dolphin exercise so that they can both see and feel the rotation in their own bodies – self-awareness is key!
Every body is unique….so I wonder is every body’s shoulder is most stable in max external rotation. I find that I have to internally rotate somewhat to fully extend my arm. My forearm pronation, isolated from my shoulder external rotation, is adequate when I extend my arms out in front of me and do the test as demonstrated in this video. But the position doesn’t translate to downward dog or even dolphin supinate for me, because the orientation of my shoulder doesn’t allow me to maintain full external rotation once I move into max flexion. Should I only flex my shoulders as much as my external rotation stays at its max, or can I allow some internal rotation in order to fully flex and joint stack my shoulders? In fact, my shoulder FEELS far more stable if I allow some internal rotation and full flexion in Downward Dog (or Dolphin).
So interesting. After testing myself, I find that I have different amounts of rotation between left and right sides! Interestingly, the on the side that can’t bring the hand to neutral I have a shoulder injury…
Great full for this article and the video.
I am in Day three of the ytu teacher trainer course I agree with Jill miller’s quote today downward dog was not for although I have done iyanger yoga teacher trainer education for 2 years and many classes revisiting yoga now after 10 years I got s clear signal from my body that a lot of preparing will need to be done before stepping into the pose again thank you Jill for the article and your teacher trainer course and the fantastic trainer’s that are giving it
This blog demonstrates many of the ideas that yoga tune up addresses. I really appreciate the way in which Jill audaciously flies in the face of years of dogma to challenge using intellectual and rational understanding of what is authentic and true.
She is a pioneer that faces the yoga world with bravery and knowledge to give people better understanding of their bodies and make well informed decisions about how and why verses a “just because” attitude.
Most importantly she is not afraid to say I was wrong before, there are better ways to do this…it’s such a refreshing attitude. We are lucky to have a beacon to light the way.
Very clear explanation about why the external rotation of the shoulder is very important to practice downward facing dog, plank, dolphin, etc. The rotation of the shoulder cup will affect to the stability and mobility of the body.
I see this sometimes in my students. it is nice to know why and to have an alternate posture to give them. Thanks
This is a really simple- easy way to check shoulder mobility and whether or not to do Downward Facing Dog. If the students can be honest to their true level and okay with modifying, yoga or any workout is going to be helpful rather than causing any damage to healthy tissues or joints. Thank you for posting this article and the video. It is explaining everything quite simply and clearly.
This was a great video on Downward Facing Dog. I never thought about our own postural habits creating blind spots. Prepping the shoulders will now be at the top of my list next time I go to do Downward Facing Dog. Thank you so much for the extensive explanation!
Thank you for this! Such a gem! I’ve always known that DownDog was not for everyone, and it’s not a pose for beginners but it’s taught in every beginner yoga class. The dolphin alternative is a great modification option. I’m going to be working with this one for a long time.
This is a great revelation. Yoga teachers don’t know or don’t talk about the forearm pronation. This is such an important thing before attempting the down dog. Thank you Jill for this knowledge !
Teachers I’ve had in the past told me that most people should bend their knees in down dog, but the YTU training is the first I’ve heard about assessing the shoulders for the pose. Thank you so much for this!
Went thru this in the YTU class today with Dinneen. I always knew that this pose is not for everyone, especially because I mostly worked with people with chronic pain/ injuries or extremely inactive people with underwork muscles. Being able to go thru this whole “why” in class is very beneficial for me, now when I see students who might not have the body to perform this pose safely, not only can I tell them that this is not what they should do but I can also give them detail explanation and variations.
This may just be the key for helping people with their downward facing dog. Understanding one’s range of motion and take that awareness into Yoga poses (or their modifications) is a great way of keeping the body healthy and happy. Thank you for this excellent demonstration!
This is handy and forearms down is also a great alternative for folks who want to give their wrists a break. Thank you :).
Worked on this today in Level 1 training. And though we went through all of these points, I did not fully realize the long term harm that could be done that causes soft tissue damage. I always thought of it more generally as the arm/shoulder bones doing the work, but didn’t think as much about the muscles, tendons and all that makes up the shoulder girdle. So appreciative to know this now, and intermix it with Purgatory Dog with my students.
I easily passed the shoulders self test for downward dog, but I have intermittent wrist pain that makes the pose inaccessible when the pain flares up. The dolphin supination variation is brilliant. Focusing on squeezing the block means I’m still getting a strong workout with my shoulder joints in extension, without aggravating my wrist.
Being in the middle of the Integrated Anatomy session and happy to learn a better adjustment in Downdog. I leraned today not to adjust their internally rotated shoulders while they are in downdog but have them come onto their knees or in a plank, and then adjust the shoulders by twisting the biceps externally. Really appraciate the adjustment.
This is exactly what we learned about in our YTU training today, but this video just blew my mind. The test presented here is so simple and so clear, it absolutely removes any confusion about who should or shouldn’t be doing down dog in the classical way. I knew it wasn’t necessarily appropriate for every body, but it has never been this obvious as to how and where to demarcate the efficacy of down dog for a particular body. So glad I came across this today!
This is great! I have started working with a few private clients who are new to yoga and are eager to get into downward facing dog; many of whom sit at a desk all day on their computers. This is a simple and easy way of assessing their structural limitations and also offers an alternative to the full expression of the pose.
Agreed. A doctor in my Yoga Therapy RX program gave the example of going to your local doctor and, when you get there, 20 people are in the waiting room. The doctor opens the doors and says, “everyone, come in, and everyone gets penicillin!” If yoga is medicine, the practice bodes best when it fits the individual in his/her particular stage of life. Group yoga is beneficial for so many reasons and, simultaneously, can be problematic. As teachers, if we are well educated and profoundly aware and conscious of the bodies in the room, we can offer the right medicine to the right body at the right time. Otherwise, everyone gets penicillin.
I really appreciated this post. It not only reminds us that every pose is not necessarily for everyone, but that there are modifications to assist each student. I loved the test you used to show if the shoulders were in the safer, externally rotated position, rather than internally rotated. I loved the modification, too. It really allows us to think about even the most common poses — ones that we can tend to pass by all too easily.
This was great, not only as a test to see if you’re ready for down dog but also as a way of making an imprint on the shoulder so when you do come to down dog (if your body is ready) your shoulders have that imprint, that muscle memory to come back to. I am wondering though if someone is close in the test if they would be able to externally rotate the upper arm and internally rotate the lower arm with the reference point of the floor. I have found in my own body that I am capable of more when I have something to press into. But perhaps that isn’t the best way to approach things?!
A very simple way to survey the students before they are pushed into vinyasa or power yoga!
I tried the test and I’m ok.yeah, however one side was much easier than the other ( my Right) so I think that I often put a bit too much weight on the right side to compensate for the left not being as flexible. Maybe that’s why my right shoulder gets tired more easily! I will ask all my students to try this over the next few weeks and we will try the dolphin pose variation as well . Great video!
I really like the simple forearm rotation test. I would not have thought of using it in my class but it makes perfect sense. I suppose there will be a number of people who will fall into the must-do-dolphin category. Now I have to think about how to fit this pose easily into a vinyasa. Thank you for the great video and explanation.
A quick and simple way for students to assess their own shoulders to help them be aware of their limitations.
This new awareness will allow instructors to educate them on the protental of injures and teach students exercises that are similar and that will slowly progress them to a downward facing dog.
Downward Dog class yesterday blew my mind. It’s going to take me some time to unpack everything that happened but I can’t wait to bring this shoulder work to my students. I know so many people want to do handstand but can’t hold a proper DD. I love having steps to work up to proper shoulder stability even if students get frustrated when they have to back off what they’re used to doing.
Thank you for this post Jill! I can’t wait to share this downward dog test with my students. It’s such a simple way to understand what the shoulder must do in order to keep the shoulder stable as it bears the weight of the body. The dolphin supinate is a great modification that I’ve never offered before. I look forward to trying it out in my classes!
This is great information. It can be also applied information to Chin-ups & Pull-ups exercise.
What a easy test for people to check if the own anatomical structure is suited for Downward Facing Dog. I hate seeing people at the gym who are doing planks with their shoulders an unstable position.
This post was really helpful to reinforce the anatomy class demonstration and is a great reference.
Personally I have always struggled in downward facing dog & this post highlights body alignment and an alternative pose, dolphin, for me to explore. I am aware a lot of people struggle to make the correct body shape in downward dog. It is important to know why, the internal rotation of the shoulders. This information is important when assessing students needs.
My takeaway from teacher training yesterday – pose ubiquity does not equal safety
This will be so helpful and simple to do with my clients! I wish someone would’ve showed me this test when I first started doing yoga. It would have been a game changer and taken years off my struggle with down dog.
Love this great pose alternative! I suffer from thoracic outlet syndrome and too much down dog never feels good for me. I wish other instructors would offer this in class…I’ll just have to go into it myself!
This is always such a great reminder. I have a private couple I teach and they are insistent on doing downward facing dog. I always try to remember to prep with dolphin supinate. I also try to really explain the safe position of the shoulder to them so they can get it ingrained in their brain that exertnal rotation and depression is what we are aiming for. Not a jamming of the humerus.
Très intéressant! Je compte bien faire ce test dans mes cours avant de faire la posture du chien tête en bas.
Merci pour cette démonstration du test, et il sera très utile pour prévenir des douleurs inutiles , j’aime bien l’alternative propose et l’utilisation du bloc pour nous guider dans la distance entre les bras .Un outil de plus !
Brilliant! Todd and Amanda are correct when they say you are brilliant! looking at this ‘basic’ popular pose from this angle proves what I have always preached…’let the pose come to you on your body’s terms…do not chase after the ‘pose’ I will use this method in my next class! Thank you so much! I am so happy I made the choice to join YTU!
While the focus of this post is about the advisability of doing down dog, what caught my attention was the connection between down dog, pushup, and planks. I struggle with pushups because of some hypermobility in my shoulders, plus I’m a bit lacking in upper body strength. I have no problem doing a chest press on the TRX, which mimics the shoulder movement of a pushup, and now I think I know why–the TRX straps force the external rotation of the shoulders. Being a student of my body now–thanks to YTU Level 1 training–I think that some of my pushup problems are caused by internal rotation and, occasionally, shoulder blade retraction as I lower my torso. I’ll be using my down dog from now on as a way to consciously train my shoulders.
It’s amazing how many yoga classes I’ve taken over the years where instructors have cued Down Dog as a “warm up” pose, or a “catch your breath” pose during a hot vinyasa. This video and taking more YTU classes has really hi lighted my body blind spots in down dog. It was a HUGE ah ha moment to really evaluate and dissect the pose and ALL that is involved in properly maintaining down dog. When I looked at all the muscle groups and DOMs with a fine tooth comb this week in class and tried to replicate that in my own body, I was sweating and shaking in my dog. Just very eye opening for teachers and students alike that the pose is not meant for every body, and those who it is appropriate for need a lot of preparation before being thrown into it.
I like this assessment or diksha (threshold test) that you need to pass before proceeding to Downdog. I’ve been in a lot of yoga classes and gotten plenty of adjustments in Downdog but never have I been tested to see if I should be doing the pose to begin with. This is such a ubiquitous pose. It’s interesting to speculate on how many many people shouldn’t even be doing the pose. Having compromised shoulders myself and having actually done this modification with you in a workshop I can truthfully say that good shoulder alignment is almost automatic. It should be a great way to get folks to really feel what good shoulder alignment (external shoulder rotation and depression) feels like so that they can refine their Downdog and and not have Downdog be a downer for the shoulders.
I’m on Day 3 of the YTU Level 1 training and this is basically a recap of what we learned today! It’s always beneficial to hear it again and again so it sticks to your head. And it is also great to know that I can tell people to come in to dolphin with a block as a modification if a person’s forearm doesn’t allow such degree of pronation when the shoulders are externally rotated. I think I missed that part in the lecture that this can actually be a modification for these people. Glad I read this blog!
WOW!! Talk about some serious insight to how many poses are not meant for all bodies. Over a life time I have heard you just have to open up to the pose, but sometimes our anatomy doesn’t allow for that! Understanding the effect that internal rotation will have on our soft tissues in down dog, or just the shoulder in general was eye opening. This is a great and simple test I would love to implement on private clients or in a small group setting to help accommodate the students shoulders and prevent injury!
Wow very simple test w the elbow joint! I e never seen this before I’m going to remember to try this w my class’s and def ” do both arms” as you remind us in the video! Thank you!!
I have the same experience in this week, one of my clients told me, that she has always pain in her elbows, if she does the downward facing dog. I explained her the correct alignment and the eternal rotation, and she has had the first time without pain. She was very happy ;-))
Any tips on how to increase that flexibility as to make downward facing a viable option in the future?
So happy that Dolphin is celebrated as a good pose for shoulder pain…struggled with pain on down dog for 3 years.
very interesting to see that the down dog posture, who is use in a many class of yoga is not for every one.
I absolutely love this! I often cue students to externally rotate the shoulders and many times it’s very hard for them to understand what this means. Generally, I like to mini-workshop it prior to the first downdog of the day (I enjoy teaching foundation classes) so that I can discuss the intricacies. Unfortunately, this can sometimes be very time consuming and they always want to “just get moving,” so this is a wonderful option to use in order to show them how to actively access the proper position of the shoulders while building towards a healthier/safer practice of this pose. Thank you!
The same concept applies to any shape, especially squatting. Sure, all humans have the potential to do a full squat but trying to get a novice into the full shape ASAP may do more harm than good. For down dog, i think it is important for everyone to understand beforehand where there shoulder mobility is and to only act within that range.
Hi Jill, you just taught up this pose in YTU teachers training level 1 and I think It’s amazing. This pose forces you to externally rotate with the elbows fixed in place, whereas in downward dog the elbow is free to help dictate where the shoulders are rotating. I teach a sun salutation class and I will now incorporate this pose to help teach people how to get that external rotation, or rather what it should fee like. thank you so much!
I love that Jill is saying this! I can’t tell you how many yoga teachers have tried to “fix my down dog” and mess-up me up. Everyone always talks about how it’s supposed to be a restful position, but for me it never has been. It never has been because I always had pain in my deltoids when I did this pose and I never understood why. This lesson has really helped me understand why. And even when I’ve tested myself in other positions, I’m always strongest when my shoulder is externally rotated. It’s really hard for me to do it in downward dog and the only way I can comfortably do DD is by laterally flexing my wrists which helps bypass the action of rotating my forearms into proper DD position, which I know is also not ok. So, I really love this dolphin alternative and can’t wait to teach it. Thanks!
Wow! I really appreciate this information. I’ve never heard or seen it explained in this way and it makes so much sense. I am eager to try it out on students I have, specifically men who are very muscular in the shoulders. I can think of one right now who complains of shoulder pain in DD and I’ve been looking for a remedy for him while he finds external rotation in the shoulder, alleviates the pain he experiencing and strengthening at the same time. Thanks so much for the clear explanation!
Great illustration of earning the pose and respecting the prerequisites to down dog. To often students of yoga lose sight of the internal event of holding a pose. Great regression to avoid the misuse of a fundamental yoga pose.
This reinforces what we learned in class today and is helping to make things more clear. I too worried about hurting someone in a class and am glad to know there is an alternative to offer.
This was truly a great find. I wasn’t sure why this ubiquitous posture was so hard.. but after doing the test on the arm, I have found an imbalance on my right side. I had no idea my right shoulder was in internal rotation. The alternative you’ve given feels great and I will definitely keep practicing that until I can retrain my shoulder to externally rotate. Thanks Jill!
The more I learn about the body an how it works, the more I worry about harming someone in the yoga room. this downward facing dog alternative is a nice option to have available to those that cannot access down dog.
Omg…. This information in truly enlightening. I just experienced day three of YTU Level 1, shoulder focus toward downward dog. Not only was I surprised at some of my weakness and dysfunction, I am very curious about many of my students, particularly the older set. I am anxious to test and assess everyone!
This was such helpful information. I had quit doing Downward Dog about 2 years ago because it seemed to irritate my right shoulder. This assessment shows me that I don’t have the capacity to do it properly. Thank you for showing a great alternative pose!
Really appreciate the self test for if you should be doing DD. I am going to especially have my male clients try this out because many of them continue to go into DD even though I advise them that their shoulders are not ready for it. It makes so much sense about how this is duplicated while working at a computer all day. Loved the option of dolphin plank with supination. This makes so much sense in getting the same results of DD without the strain on the shoulder. Thank you!
A tough pill to swallow. None the less a valuable lesson in self care within the yoga room. Thank you!
I enjoyed your breakdown of Downward Facing Dog along with the explanation how it can be dedtrimental. The self test will come in handy in my classes to demonstrate how we are all built differently. I can imagine there will be more Dolphin Supinates in class from now on.
This video is an excellent reminder of the Level 1 training I took a few weeks ago. For some reason I keep mixing up my internal and external rotation when my shoulders are in flexion… Though I am now externally rotating my shoulders in downward dog (I used to internally rotate), I like the “test” of rotating the forearm to help determine a person’s ability to do the pose safely. It’s a great tool for new and experienced yoga students alike.
I’ve recently broken down the downward dog and my students have mentioned how revealing the yoga tune up prep poses have been leading to the downward dog. I myself never enjoyed being in that position and not once did an instructor ever mention the importance of external rotation and the use of the serrates anterior in DD. It was always a type of “push your head through your hands, elongate spine, heels to ground” that was the emphasis. With my knowledge in biomechanics and thanks to the Yoga Tune Up level I teacher training I can now SAFELY teach this pose and all it’s components. And the yogis that have done this pose for years are truly grateful for the addition. My shoulders are very grateful as well.
Wow. this was a real revelation for me. i was practicing yoga for years and never thought that the basic pose as downward dog can be so complicated. we are used to hear all the time: long spine, coccyx to the celling, heels to the floor, chest to the feet, but whats about the shoulders? now every time i have a new student in my class i will first of all check his ability to externally rotate the shoulder
A great review of the work we did today in day three of the Level 1 training.
I do not have full ROM in my shoulders, that I already knew. After working with Todd Lavictoire and taking his tune up classes for over 2 years now I thought I mastered the nuances of a proper downward dog (external rotation, please!) BUT… while working with the pose in teacher training, 1 I have discovered that I actually have very limited and external rotation! Point: downward dog may not be for me right now. Wow.
A must know for any yoga practitioner and yoga teacher! We all see these tight shoulders in downward dog. Now we can safely test and offer a modification that will make sense to people. Thank you for the clear explanation! I look forward to sharing this technique and alternate pose in class this week.
This is such an important point to make! Not every body is capable of, or should be put in certain positions. Such a great distinction to make especially with the number of shoulder injuries I see in people who practice unsafe yoga.
This is a great message Jill! Thank you so much for going against the grain and showing people that some poses that they think will help them, might actually harm them. I also like it opens the conversation to reverse the shaming associated with not being able to get into every pose.
This is so true. I teach yoga and so many of my students have hard time with that pose. It’s very complicated with many moving and squeezing parts. It also exposes tight hamstrings, ankle and wrist mobility limitations. It requires a lot of strength and awareness and it’s not a warm up pose!
An eye opener for sure. It can be a wake up to embody that everyone’s geometry is different, and thus, we all do not benefit from the same practice.
I find it helpful for many to do downward facing dog with the groins supported by the top of a solid chair. Most people do need to place a folded blanket under the groins so that they don’t create any irritation. They get to feel the back lengthening, the hamstrings elongating and do not need to put any weight on their arms. The head can rest on the seat of the chair. What I love about this variation is that both sides of the pelvis are level and that the upper body can practice the actions without any weight bearing. This works really well for plank and shataranga too and is a great for those with shoulder, arm , wrist and hand injuries as well as SI joint issues.
Thanks for drawing our attention to this problem. I’m not too sure how many times we do Downward Facing dog in many typical flow and Ashtanga classes but if we are not ready for it than the ” drip drip” of repeatedly doing it incorrectly will eventually hurt us. What do you think of bending one knee at a time while doing Downdog? I know it feels like a great stretch but does it create more SI joint instability in those who have issue
This is such a useful assessment for whether yogis should do downward dog or modify. I will now use this in my beginner classes so that students can understand what version of the pose is right for them.
I started teaching yoga full time about 4 years ago. As we moved through time together and becasue I inherited many students from the previous teacher, I noticed a lot of people with wrist issues and shoulder issues. Despite my trying to encourage people to put their whole palm on the ground or externally rotate their shoulders blah blah, I didn’t see any change. The pain was still there and I had to keep sayig the same cues to compensate for what I thought was ‘incorrect form’. I now know that through this blog, downward dog isn’t for everyone anatomically. Trying to fix muscular problems in a closed chain seems dangerous to me as well.
Wow! What an incredibly useful test. I had not heard of this before and have been trying to demystify the mystical down dog for years. In anusara I cue forearms hug in and shoulders externally rotate. But I never thought to run an drill like this. It’s brilliant! I see lots of yogis (and even yoga teachers) who do have the forearm flexibility and still internally rotate their arms because they have hears the cue of reaching their chest to the floor. They mistake the sensation of impingement in the shoulder for a stretch.
Thank u for this very important information on a pose that is almost always used in a yoga class. Your assessment is crystal clear and very easy to understand. I find this assessment is great for privates but even as a class assessment can help students avoid long term injury. This is great. Thank u.
This is an elegant adaptation of Downward Dog. I will definitely be using it for my students. Thanks Jill!
This a great option for those of us with at least one forearm that doesn’t pronate to a flat palm. I also wanted to mention to those who are “lucky” enough to not be able to go upside down (invert) either that this palm-up dolphin modification works against the wall, too!
This is revelatory. I discovered a while ago that while I THINK I do DD just fine, I have an immense amount of trouble with forearm plank, forearm stand and dolphin. I cannot get my forearms down on the mat. This suggests to me that I’m probably not in correct alignment in the shoulders when I’m in DD. In my case I believe it’s muscular (upper back weakness coupled with a lot of scar tissue back there), but I know many people for whom the issue is structural; their skeleton will not allow for DD. I think that if this issue were described properly by teachers, and this YTU pose were given as an alternative, not only would it be a relief to students who struggle with DD, it would be EMPOWERING to show them how to work with the body they have, not the body they think they should have.
Great blog reminding us to prioritise poses that work for our body, and not to work towards those that are typically aesthetically pleasing or the common pose many others may be working towards. I am on the YTU L1 in Ireland this week (Wahoo Europe!!!), and we focused on this pose in great detail. It was very educational and is a loud reminder that ‘standard’ poses are not for everyone and a reminder of just how involved they can be. Deconstruction and testing is clearly key!
I am a Physical Therapist attending Yoga Tune Up training in Ireland. We covered this today, and am SO delighted with the attention to detail. For too long the Yoga community have avoided addressing the potential of insiduous repetitive stress, and the fact that not everybody can or should do certain poses. Bravo, Jill, for challenging and forward, not resting in the habits of the past.
Doing this “test” today at the Level 1 Teacher Training Course opened my eyes for the difference and the connection of internal/external rotation of the shoulder and pronation/supination of the forearm. I will definitely have my students test this and warm the up more before – if even – doing Sun Salutations!
Wow! Just learned this one today. It will be interesting to try to unteach the ever so popular downward dog to some folks. But very important to prevent shoulder impingement syndrome.
Wow this is a revelation to me. The only “modifications” I’ve been taught before are regular dolphin or just taking the hands wider. Another cool bonus of this would be reversing the flexed wrist position that we’re constantly in during vinyasa.
This video has been the biggest wake up call for me. I thought I had improved my shoulder strength, stability and flexibility until I tested myself. Barely any external rotation. I began incorporating the supinated position straight away and I have felt such an improvement. Thank you!
I am a huge fan of dolphin already and I appreciate the palm up variation with a block. good stuff!
I am able to rotate my shoulders outwards and turn my palms down, so I’m able to practice DD safely. But, I really enjoyed Dolphin Pose with the block, as well – it underscored the idea of how my shoulders should feel in DD. Thank you!
I love this! My fiancee has always hated yoga because downward facing dog is so painful for him and so much of Vinyasa yoga uses Downdog as a “resting” pose. This also helped me connect with the cue that I give my students to press more into the inner edges of their hands – that really means they are pronating even more through the forearm. This is a much safer and more anatomically correct cue to produce a better down dog.
this is a great way to check shoulder openness for DD, Id never thought of DD as a pose that would be unavailable in the shoulders rotation wise.
WOW, this has really opened my eyes. Downward Dog is usually the first pose in class and there is no attention to those who might not have the strength or body awareness to perform proper alignment! So scare to think how many poor beginners are being set up for failure in this posture. Thank you for raising this issue! I have been practicing for almost a year now, and downward dog has been one of my biggest struggles, because every teacher instructs and assists this pose differently. Just glad I’m not alone on this subject!
I often have pain in my elbows I think because I’m pulling my upper outer arms downward to externally rotate the shoulders. That’s what I’m supposed to do to place my arms in the most stable position, right? Well, what do I do when there’s pain caused by it? I modify by supinating the arms – I feel that I can load weight and still externally rotate the shoulders. This is one of the most important modifications I can do 🙂
This is so scary to me! I see so many people do downward dog everyday without body awareness. I am excited to use this modification in class and to get students thinking about what their shoulders are doing.
Hey Jill! I’m so excited I found this post! recently a client of mine who has wrist issues was asking what the deal was with Downdog…she says she hates it. I was getting her to do it on her elbows but now I now that that didn’t help her at all. the self test and alternative the Dolphin Supinate will be something I discuss with her and see if she and my other clients will try. So much great information on this blog. Thanks You!!
This has been extremely helpful. I love the test and modification. So many of my clients internally rotate their shoulders in Down Dog and thrust their ribs to compensate, This is a great way to help them understand where they need to be, and for me to guide them there, Thank you
Awesome tip on the self test, as well as the dolphin supinate alternative. I think dolphin supinate is a great way to teach what external rotation of the shoulders feels like, since many students struggle with it in downward dog even if they’re capable of “passing” the self test.
what if we have one shoulder lower than the other? any advice on that?
Thank you for the tip on the self test. When I first started practicing downward facing dog about 5 years ago, my teacher would say this is a great resting pose. My response was, “RESTING pose, NOT!” She helped me make a few adjustments with my shoulders, focusing on keeping my shoulders externally rotated, and it made all the difference in the distribution of my body weight. Eventually, I found myself loving this pose.
I just recently took a 200 hour yoga teacher training class and I will definitely keep this self test tool in my tool bag along with the great alternative you shared, the Dolphin Supinate pose.
Thanks again. The video demonstration was very helpful.
Thanks for another great post, Jill. I really appreciate the test of forearm flexibility. It is something I can take easily into a yoga class when the students would much rather do Downward Dog. For the students of mine who may feel like not doing Downward Dog is a cop out, Dolphin Supinate is a great and challenging alternative, as they can’t sink into bad postural habits.
I’ve seen this video before and it is one of my favorites! Great explanations and tools to understand internal and external rotation of the shoulder.
Thank you for your question! This clip is not from the At Home Program, but a special clip that was created while filming the Massage Therapy DVD.
Hope this helps! Please feel free to contact us should you have any additional questions 🙂
-Alex ([email protected])
This is so useful! Thank you very much! I now see that I should not be doing this pose! Does that mean I shouldn’t be doing press ups either?
Great video! The info was very informative. I will be doing Dolphin instead of Down Dog for awhile. Can you tell me if this clip is from the At Home series of DVDs?
Thank you so much, this was a very useful video for me. I always find tension within my shoulders while I am doing the downward facing dog. I have a question though, I understand that some people might not be able to rotate their elbows 180 degree without internally rotating their shoulders so these people should start with the dolphin supinate pose. Is it possible that after doing the dolphin supinate for a period of time these people have a more flexible elbow joints that allow them to become the candidate of downward facing dog? Or they just have to stick with dolphin supinate all the time?
Hi Jill–Thank you for this very helpful tip to assess a student’s anatomy as it relates to Downward Facing Dog. I am currently taking a 3-day YTU Embodied Integrated Anatomy course. During my 200-hr teaching training, I learned about modifications for DD, but the program didn’t cover if the pose is OK for everyone. Are there some exercises an individual can do to increase the rotation in the forearm/wrist while maintaining the external rotation in the shoulder so that they can eventually practice downward dog safely?
I am a physical therapist and now going through my 200 hr YTT. I absolutely love this video! As an avid yogi, and someone who knows anatomy and understands alignment, you just blew my mind in terms of checking for full pronation while maintaining shoulder external rotation. I never thought to check this way, versus closed chain. Additionally, I’m thinking of my mom who fell and broke her wrist about a year ago who is now doing yoga. I know she complains to me that her wrist is “not the same” and she also had some rotator cuff impingement in the past. Next time I see her, I will have her do this “check”. Of course, once I begin to teach yoga classes myself, I will definitely integrate this. I do love your dolphin supinate pose for promoting good shoulder alignment and muscle memory, however this leaves out any work to improve the pronation. What would you suggest to work on pronation in weight-bearing for an improved down dog?
Nice! Easy test and a great alternative pose. My right side is fine, but my left forearm is more restricted and tight and so downward dog doesn’t feel great on the left shoulder unless I move my hand out further away from the midline, so consequently I haven’t been doing it. I just tried it and I think it’s going to be very useful for me to work on the dolphin supinate version. Thanks Jill!
This is fascinating! I did the test on myself and fortunately I can do downward dog, because I am a yoga instructor. But I teach pro-athletes and I will be doing this test on all of them to make sure that this pose is appropriate for them! Fantastic! Thank you so much!