Yoga is a powerful practice that has the ability to transform our body, mind, and heart if you allow it to. Western yoga primarily focuses on just one of those components: the body. And, guess what? That’s okay! We’ve all gotta start somewhere.
In yoga classes, you might hear the teacher call the poses by their Sanskrit name, which might sound like a long funny sounding word to you if you’ve never heard it before. Perhaps you’ll notice that all of those Sanskrit names end with “asana,” which means posture. Our asana practice is the physical practice of yoga.
Yoga asana promotes increased strength, flexibility, and mobility within the body. Yoga as a philosophy believes that improving strength and flexibility in the body can also improve the strength and flexibility of the mind and spirit. The yoga practice is a ritual that helps us to “master” new shapes with our body, while also cultivating more inner peace, patience, and kindness within. It’s a practice that is thought to help mild depression, anxiety, and benefit our mental health as much as our physical health.
This post will dive into what exactly Dolphin pose in yoga is, why it’s important to learn, and how you can practice it safely in the comfort of your own home.
Dolphin Pose in Yoga
Dolphin pose is one that might look familiar to you. Because it’s sort of like a cousin to Downward Facing Dog- which is one of yoga’s most well known asana.
Dolphin pose is a great position to build strength in the shoulders, to lengthen the hamstrings, open the chest, and start to get comfortable being upside down- helping to prepare you for arm balances and deeper inversions down the line.
While Dolphin pose is challenging, it’s still one that is relatively accessible even to beginners, so long as they know how to modify it. Which I will, of course, share with you in this post.
What is Dolphin Pose
Dolphin pose is otherwise known as Ardha Pincha Mayurasana in Sanskrit. Dolphin is known as an inversion, because the head is below the heart (trust me, you’ll feel this with the blood rushing to your head). This pose is one that really puts the entire body to work, and is a true embodiment of equal parts strength and flexibility.
When you practice Dolphin pose, you’ll feel your entire body get involved in stabilizing the position, making it a great option in your warm up to really get the heat going. Dolphin pose can also be an alternative to Downward Facing Dog for students who might have wrist injuries or sensitivities. Or, it can also be a great alternative just to switch things up in an otherwise more predictable class. There truly are so many benefits to Dolphin pose!
5 Benefits of Dolphin Pose
Dolphin pose is one that is meant to be both challenging, and accessible. It’s similar to Downward Facing Dog in that way. While there’s a lot going on in the body, it’s still a shape that most new yogis can enter into safely with the proper modifications and alignment. We love using accessible and challenging shapes, because not only does it help to tonify the body, but it also helps to build inner and outer strength and flexibility, as well.
Above all else, most people will talk about how Dolphin pose is really strong in their shoulders. This is why it might be too much for someone with a current, or even an older, shoulder injury. Downward Facing Dog would be a better choice for them. This position builds strength throughout the entire shoulder girdle, although should not be attempted if you feel pain.
While you’re strengthening your shoulders, you’re also opening the chest. This part of the reason the pose is so challenging! You can’t only rely on flexibility, nor can you only rely on strength. There needs to be the perfect balance of both. To work on your chest opening, check out my post on 9 backbend yoga poses.
Dolphin pose is the perfect prep pose for Pincha Mayurasana (otherwise known as Forearm Stand). You’ll find this on repeat in my Practice Your Pincha series, because Dolphin is truly the best way to prepare your body for Pincha, as well as other inversions.
Similar to Downward Facing Dog, Dolphin pose opens the backline of the body, including the hamstrings. It’s okay if your knees are super bent to start. You’ll notice that overtime, you’re able to straighten your legs, as your hamstrings continue to open.
Our core is at the center of our being, and also the center of our practice, in that it keeps everything stabilized and secure. Dolphin pose is a great place to practice deeper core activations like bandha work, as it’s more accessible in this compressed shape.
How To Do Dolphin Pose
Dolphin pose is similar to Downward Facing Dog in yoga, so it’s likely that you’ll pop right into it. If not, make sure to keep reading to check out some of the variations below!
Start in Table Top on your hands and knees. Inhale, tucking your toes underneath you, and stabilize through your hands and feet. Exhale, lower your forearms parallel onto the mat.
Inhale to lift your knees and lift your hips into a Downward Dog-like shape. And exhale, to walk your feet closer to your elbows. Look back between your ankles. You’re in Dolphin pose!
Make sure you’re still breathing as we refine the shape. Press the forearms into the ground a lot, so that you have plenty of space between your shoulders and ears. Hug your shoulder blades together behind your heart. Make sure your elbows stay at shoulder width, as they usually want to spill out wider. Draw your upper arms in towards your chest to avoid the fanning of the elbows out wide.
Dolphin Pose Variations
Remember, Dolphin pose in yoga is meant to be one that’s challenging, but that doesn’t mean you should feel challenged to the point of pain. If you’re feeling pain, then it’s best to try on some of the modifications and variations listed below.
This is a modification. Interlacing the hands, rather than keeping forearms parallel is helpful for those of you who need more stabilization, or are tight across the chest. This can also be more comfortable on the wrists, rather than hands flat on the ground.
This is a modification. The more bent your knees are, the less sensation you’ll feel in your hamstrings. So, if your hamstrings are tight, bend your knees a lot. Additionally, the more bent your knees are, the lower your hips will be- making it a less intense inversion. If you feel a little scared of inversions, then bend more into your knees.
This is a more advanced variation. Walking the feet super close to the elbows (hands can be interlaced or not), will help you to lengthen more into your hamstrings, and also deepen compression core work. Walking the feet into the elbows will also turn up the sensation in your inversion, as the hips lift up and overhead.
Three Leg Dolphin
This is a more advanced variation. You can keep your forearms parallel, or interlace your hands. Either way, make sure your shoulders don’t collapse in towards your ears as you lift one leg. Try to keep your hips square, and remember to turn on your toes so your entire floating leg is active. This is great prep and practice for Pincha Mayurasana. For more advanced variations, check out my post on advanced backbends.
There you have it, my friends. You have all different kinds of Dolphin poses to practice now. I hope that keeps you busy, strong, and curious.