If your Dolphin Pose is feeling crunchy or stifled there are numerous ways you could adapt it to form something a little more spacious feeling.
Some common suggestions include turning your toes in slightly to rotate the hips internally, clasping your hands on gripping a block and squeezing your elbows in, relaxing your head and neck and of course- practicing tilting your tailbone to the ceiling as you would in Down Dog.
Often, however these Dolphin Pose struggles are birthed from tight shoulders, and not just the kind that rise up to meet your ears, but also the kind of tightness that lives in the front of your shoulders and across your chest.
Being super tight in this area will compromise the strength with which you hold your Dolphin and will also make your chest openers and backbends more challenging.
Here are a few ways tight shoulders can affect your Dolphin followed by a few ways to stretch them out:
A Rounded Back
If you see, or feel, that you have a rounded back in Dolphin or Down Dog you can create a long line from the tip of your elbows to your hips by squeezing your shoulder blades together behind you and pulling your ribs in.
This will tilt your tailbone up to the sky and promote that spacious length you’ve been searching for.
- A great way to accentuate this action is by walking your feet in and out from forearm plank to a very tight round Dolphin, or rocking up to your tippy-toes and then pressing back into your heels a few times over. Eventually you will find the spot where you feel longer and straighter through your spine creating a happier, longer Dolphin.
Caved in Shoulders
Another very common misalignment in Dolphin Pose is yogi’s keeping their shoulders next to their ears. This is part gravity in this shape but also disengagement of the shoulders. Your shoulders and your ears are simply not friends.
Press your shoulders away from your ears so that they rise up towards the hips. Then slide your upper body back so that your face isn’t over your thumbs anymore.
This is a common misalignment in many, many postures so if you are afflicted with tight shoulders that think they live up by your ears, try starting each practice with some shoulder shrugs and rolls to make you more aware of that tension being present and thus being able to let it go and work through it.
To create a strong base for your Dolphin requires keeping your elbows pulled in towards your midline. Many people find this challenging and using interlaced fingers is the best way to begin strengthening this base.
Tightness in your shoulders will melt your heart and face over your thumbs so keep pulling up and away form the floor as mentioned previously, BUT ALSO — squeeze your elbows in tightly.
If you notice them slowly sliding to the outskirts of your mat reset your posture and perhaps consider using a strap tied around your upper arms until you can hold the elbows comfortably in without lateral movement. This takes strength so don’t be disconcerted when it doesn’t happen the first few attempts.
Chest Versus Shoulders
To help open the front of your shoulders requires controlling your backbends with your core and understanding how to take the stretch from your spine and into your frontal plane.
Inflexible shoulders may be anatomical or something that you need to be very patient with as this area is challenging to open for many physical and emotional reasons, but training your shoulders to be inline with your elbows rather then your wrists is key in holding Dolphin (or any of it’s inverted cousins) safely.
If this is something you struggle with generally then practice these little motions wherever you can in your practice and you will notice a difference not just in Dolphin but all over your mat.
- Stretch the front of your shoulders instead of taking backbend by rolling the shoulders back fully in every posture so that your chest opens as much as your body will allow.
Press your ribs forward into a backbend, then pull the ribs and your core back in to access the shoulders instead of the backbend. You can use this in Warrior II and III, Cobra, Tree Pose, Chair, pretty much anything.
- Opening your chest upside down can feel like a foreign land. Try this: tie a block to your back, between your shoulder blades. Go to a wall and take Ragdoll pressing the block against the wall. Practice leaning into the block and wall to see how it should feel to have your shoulders come together and your chest push more deeply towards your shins.
If you have a good yoga buddy, have them press on the space between your shoulder blades when you are in Down Dog or Dolphin to create the same sensation with the props.
- Practice Dolphin arms from a standing or sitting position and pay close attention to your ribs. Lift your arms over head (shoulders dropped) and bend at the elbows so your palms face the ceiling.
Try to take those arms back behind your ears while keeping your shoulders dropped and at the same time, work on pulling your ribs in so that you avoid any kind of back bend.
This takes the stretch entirely into your shoulders and is delicious prep work for safely bearing weight in your forearms and shoulders. Good Luck!