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

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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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!

Sara Wang

One simple adjustment to fully stabilize the shoulder, this is brilliant!

Mel C Russo

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.

deborah liu

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… Read more »

Amber Bilak

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…

jan hollander

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.… Read more »

Tari Surapholn

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.

Jenna Mitchell

I see this sometimes in my students. it is nice to know why and to have an alternate posture to give them. Thanks

Duygu (Dee) Ozkan

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.