Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) is one of the most popular yoga poses, but it can be very painful and difficult for those with wrist pain or carpal tunnel syndrome. This variation, called “Dolphin Pose,” is done on the forearms, which relieves wrist pressure while providing all of the benefits of Downward Dog.
If you lift weights, play sports, draw, work on a computer, play guitar, or play video games, you might be familiar with sore wrists. Additionally, women who are pregnant often get carpal tunnel syndrome, and Dolphin Pose can be a useful modification to their regular pre-natal yoga practice! This pose is sometimes referred to as “Puppy Pose,” though that term is also used to refer to Downward Dog done on both the forearms and knees.
Benefits of Dolphin Pose
Dolphin Pose strengthens and stretches the shoulders, arms, upper back, and legs. It helps bring flexibility to the spine, hamstrings, calves, and arches. In addition, it provides all of the benefits of Downward-Facing Dog, including:
- Relief from headaches, insomnia, fatigue, and mild depression
- Improved memory and concentration
- Relief from stress and anxiety
- Improved digestion
- Relief from back pain
- Prevention of osteoporosis
- Relief from sinusitis, asthma, flat feet, and menstrual discomfort
The happiness of… the dolphin is to exist. For man it is to know that and to wonder at it.
Do not practice Dolphin Pose if you have a recent or current shoulder, back, arm, or neck injury. Also avoid this pose if you have high blood pressure, or infections of the eye or inner ear. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- Begin on your hands and knees. Align your wrists directly under your shoulders, and your knees directly under your hips. The fold of your wrists should be parallel to the top edge of your mat, and your middle fingers should point directly forward.
- Lower your elbows to the floor directly beneath your shoulders. Keep your forearms parallel to each other and to the side edges of your mat. Distribute your weight evenly across both forearms.
- Tuck your toes and lift your knees off the floor. Reach your pelvis up toward the ceiling, then draw your sit bones toward the wall behind you. Keep your knees bent as you lengthen your spine and broaden across your shoulder blades.
- Then, gently begin to straighten your legs. Bring your torso and legs into the shape of an "A." Do not walk your feet closer to your hands — keep the extension of your whole body. If your upper back begins to round, bend your knees again until your spine is straight.
- Draw your shoulder blades into your upper back ribs and toward your tailbone. Widen across your collarbones.
- Align your ears with your upper arms. Relax your head, but do not let it dangle. Gaze between your legs or toward your navel.
- Hold for 5-25 breaths.
- To release, exhale as you gently bend your knees and come back to the floor. Press back into Child's Pose (Balasana) to rest.
Modifications & Variations
You can use Dolphin Pose in place of Downward-Facing Dog if you are suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome; but it is a powerful and challenging pose in its own right when practiced in correct alignment. To deepen or lighten the pose, try these changes to find a variation that works for you:
- To help open the shoulders even more, press your palms together with your forearms on the floor. Continue pressing your palms, or clasp all ten fingers together.
- To learn the correct alignment for your spine, bend your knees in the pose. Come onto the balls of your feet, bringing your shins parallel to the mat. Continue lifting your sit bones high and keeping them back. Press your hips toward the wall behind you. Then, slowly straighten your legs.
- If your upper back rounds when you straighten your legs, bend them again until you gain enough flexibility in your spine to keep it long and straight throughout the pose.
- For a greater challenge, press yourself from Dolphin Pose directly into Downward-Facing Dog. Then, bend your elbows and lower your forearms back to the mat into Dolphin Pose again. Repeat 10-20 times (but be careful not to over-strain your shoulders, elbows, or wrists).
Dolphin Pose can benefit the whole body when it's practiced correctly! Keep the following information in mind when practicing this pose:
- If your spine is very flexible, don't let your rib cage sink toward the floor. Instead, draw your lower ribs in to maintain a flat back.
- As in Downward-Facing Dog, your heels do not need to touch the ground. It's much more important to maintain the length of your spine and the lift of your pelvis. Avoid walking your feet closer to your hands to place your heels on the floor.
Practicing Dolphin Pose can be a great way to warm, strengthen, and stretch your whole body. It's also a great modification for those with wrist troubles. It adds variety and fun to your practice, while challenging your muscles and your mind. Vary your practice with Dolphin Pose and you might discover joy and freedom in movement, just like those friendly creatures of the sea!