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Ask a Yogi: My Arms Shake in Down Dog – Is This Normal?

Yoga | Yoga for Beginners

So you're in class and your yoga teacher calmly and cooly guides you to “rest for a few breaths in Downward Facing Dog.” Seasoned yogis around you effortlessly pop up into a perfect upside down V shape, while your arms are like baby giraffe legs about to give out underneath of you.

And you're probably thinking, "since when is Down Dog is supposed to be a resting pose??" If you, like many others (yep, you're not alone!), are wondering why your arms shake in Down Dog, read on.

Why Does This Happen?

There are several possible reasons you're experiencing shaky arms in Down Dog:

Range of Motion in the Shoulder Joint

If you have tight shoulders, this will lead to limited mobility in your shoulder joint. When you’re in Down Dog, your arms are extended overhead by your biceps, so you need to be able to fully extend your arms at 180 degrees. If you can’t, then you’ll end up in a half pushup-like position which puts more strain on your shoulders and arms.

Shoulder, Chest, and Upper Back Strength

While your shoulder joint must have 180 degrees of mobility, you must also have strong muscles in your shoulders, chest, and upper back in order to stabilize your shoulders. Once you can get your arms up there, you have to be able to maintain that position.

Hamstring Flexibility

Flexible hamstrings allow the yogi to push his/her hips all the way up and back. Without this flexibility, you’ll again find yourself in a pushup-like position.

Is It “Normal”?

Totally! A lack in any one of the above categories can throw off your Down Dog, putting an increased and unnecessary amount of weight over your arms for your shoulders to bear the burden of. Everyone’s body is different and what you do outside of your yoga class will shape your strength and anatomy.

Practice Tips and Modifications

There are infinite modifications to each asana to accommodate your body. As you build up your strength and stability to prevent the shaking in the first place, try one or more of these modifications to make Down Dog comfortable for you.

  • Place a folded blanket, towel, or block underneath your heels
  • Place a folded blanket, towel, or block underneath your hands
  • Bend your knees if you have tight hamstrings
  • Make sure the distance between your hands and feet is appropriate—find your Plank position with your shoulders directly over your wrists and from here, without moving your feet or hands, press back to your Down Dog.
  • Take Child’s pose – there’s no reason to stay in an uncomfortable pose. Listen to your body and take Child’s pose when you need it.

To prevent the shaking in the first place, you’ll need to increase the range of motion in your shoulder joints, increase your hamstring flexibility, and increase your shoulder, chest, and back strength.

I recommend practicing a few other poses that will help you build up strength and stability in Down Dog, such as Puppy Dog pose and Dolphin pose.

Remember, everyone and every body is different, and there are infinite modifications to make each asana fit to your body. Keep practicing!

Image credit: AlissaYoga

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