Dolphin pose is an intense shoulder opener that strengthens the abdominals, hamstrings, calves, and arches. This inversion pose is also the first step to assuming challenging inversions like forearm balance (pincha mayurasana) and headstand (sirsasana).
How to do the pose
- Start in plank pose (push-up position), with your toes and heels together. Lean forward slightly, so that your wrists are directly under your shoulders.
- Exhale. Drop your forearms onto the mat. Now, your elbows should be directly under your shoulders (temporarily lower your knees to the mat during this step for an easier transition into forearm plank). Point your middle fingers toward the front of the mat. Plant your forearms and palms and spread your fingers wide.
- Keeping your palms planted, inhale and gradually walk your feet in, bringing your hips up into the air. When the pose begins to feel uncomfortable, stop and hold it.
- Lift up through the hips and heels to lengthen the legs and to push your weight upwards and forwards. Keep your upper arms perpendicular to the floor.
- Press your forearms into the floor. Use this force to push shoulder blades up and back, firming them against the back of your ribs. Open your chest and press it towards your legs to deepen the shoulder stretch.
- Hold your head off the ground and in between your forearms. Rest your gaze on your feet.
- Breath and hold the pose.
- Exhale and walk the feet back into forearm plank. Inhale and push up into plank, positioning your wrists directly below your shoulders. Again, temporarily drop your knees if you need an easier transition from forearm plank to plank.
- Tips, Photos and Videos for Beginners
Tips, Photos and Videos for Beginners
Modifications and Props
Use a strap to keep the elbows together. In dolphin pose, your elbows should be shoulder-distance apart. If your elbows tend to jut out further than that in the pose, hold your upper arms (right above your elbows) in place with a strap.
Bend your knees to accommodate tight hamstrings. If dolphin pose strains your tight hamstrings, adjust the pose by bending your knees slightly in steps three through seven (above).
Downward facing dog pose (adho mukha svanasana). Dolphin pose prepares practitioners mentally for more challenging inversions. Downward facing dog does the same thing. To take a downward facing dog variation of dolphin, do not drop onto your forearms in step two (above). Instead, keep your arms straight and the weight of your upper body distributed evenly through your palms and fingers. In step four, lift up through the hips, but press down through the heels to lengthen the hamstring muscles.
Headstand prep variation. Readjust your arm position in dolphin to make the pose a preliminary for headstand. Normally, the practitioner plants the forearms parallel to the long edges of the mat. In this variation, clasp the hands together, so that your arms make a “V” shape. Keep your elbows planted shoulder distance apart on the mat.
Rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surrounds each shoulder joint. It is responsible for stabilizing the shoulder. Dolphin pose is an intense shoulder opener that works the teres minor, the teres major, and the infraspinatus muscles of the rotator cuff.
Subscapularis muscle. The subscapularis muscle attaches to the front of the scapula. It controls the inner rotation of the arm and, when the arm is lifted above the head, it draws the upper arm down and forward to prevent dislocation. Pressing the chest back in dolphin pose lengthens the subscapularis muscle, increasing the range of motion in your upper arms.
Latissimus dorsi. The latissimus dorsi muscles in the mid-back rotate and extend the shoulder joint. Dolphin pose strengthens the lats, which engage as the shoulders open.
Deltoid. The deltoid muscles form the rounded contour of the outer shoulders. They prevent dislocation of the arm during heavy lifting. In forearm plank, they are the primary arm muscle working to hold the weight of the upper body. In dolphin, too, they take the weight.
Serratus anterior. The serratus anterior muscles are located on the sides of the chest, just below the armpits. They rotate the scapula when the arms are lifted above the chest. Pressing the chest back in dolphin pose lengthens and strengthens the serratus anterior, making it easier to lift the arms up.
Pectoral muscles. The pectoralis major and minor connect the front walls of the chest with the upper arms and shoulders. These muscles draw the arms towards the body. Keeping the elbows shoulder width apart in dolphin pose (even if that means using a strap) strengthens the pecs.
Hamstring muscles. The three hamstring muscles – the semitendinosus, the semimembranosus, and the biceps femoris – run along the back of the thigh. They extend the hip, flex the knee, and rotate the lower leg. Walking the legs in in dolphin pose lengthens the hamstrings, improving their flexibility. If the hamstrings are tight, however, dolphin pose can be harmful. Modify the pose accordingly.
Tight shoulders can wreck havoc on posture and put you at risk for debilitating shoulder injuries. Dolphin pose focuses on opening up the shoulders and strengthening and lengthening the muscles responsible for range of motion. This range of shoulder motion is key to advanced poses like headstand and king pigeon pose (kapotasana).
Gurus also credit dolphin pose with alleviating the symptoms of menopause, high blood pressure, asthma, flat feet, and sciatica, along with reducing headaches, insomnia, and back pain.
Dolphin pose is an intense shoulder opener and hamstring stretch. Those with shoulder, head, or hamstring injuries should modify dolphin pose by bending the knees.
Make a smooth transition from dolphin pose into headstand by clasping your hands together after step seven (above). Keeping your elbows shoulder width apart, open your palms upwards to create a bed for your head. Exhale and carefully place your head on the mat, supporting the back of your skull with your palms.
Walk your feet in, so that your upper arms and head take the weight of your body. Find your balance. Inhale and lift your legs (one at a time if necessary) to come into a controlled headstand. To coming out of the pose, bring the legs down slowly. Bend the knees. Then, rest your head against the mat for a minute before coming up into seated.