Dolphin Pose, or Ardha Pincha Mayurasana, is a demanding shoulder and core-strengthening posture that has the added benefit of opening up the shoulders, chest, and hamstrings. It teaches the practitioner the importance of pressing down onto the mat to create upward rotation of the shoulders, and drawing back through the top of the thighs to lengthen the spine.
It is a great preparatory posture for Forearm Stand (Pincha Mayurasana), but on its own, works wonders for cultivating strength, openness, and a steady breath.
Warm Up the Body
It should go without saying that any “big” posture should be practiced only after sufficiently warming up to keep the body safe and reduce the risk of injury.
Begin with 5 to 7 rounds of Cow and Cat to mobilize the spine. Be conscious to press the hands firmly into the floor, activating the shoulders.
As you continue moving through Cat-Cow, focus on actively squeezing the upper arm bones towards each other, firing up the muscles of the chest. More importantly, this will teach you the act of adduction which will engage the serratus anterior (this is also referred to as “hugging into the midline”). Adduction of the arms can become more challenging once the knees are off of the mat such as in High Plank pose or Downward Dog.
Move on to 3-5 rounds of Sun Salutations of your choice with variations as you see fit. Focus on adduction of arms when in High Plank pose or Downward Dog.
In Dolphin pose, there are two main actions of the shoulders: the shoulder blades protract, and the shoulders upwardly rotate (with an active adduction of the arms).
Practice this short flow to help connect with these actions:
Spread the shoulder blades across the back, and press firmly through the hands extending the arms completely
Tiger Curl Pose
Lift the right leg up, and bring the knee forward to the nose, lifting the thigh towards to heart. Actively press firmly through the hands for shoulder blade protraction.
Step the right foot forward into Crescent Lunge, lifting both of the arms above the head. Rotate the shoulders such that the baby fingers turn in towards each other, and then lift up strongly through the arms. The shoulder blades are protracted and shoulders are upwardly rotating.
Warrior II with Eagle Arms
Turning the back heel down moving into Warrior II. Find eagle arms with the left elbow under. The shoulder blades are once again wide. Squeeze the arms towards each other while simultaneously pulling apart (adduction and abduction of the arms).
Release the Eagle arms, resting the left hand on the back leg, and reaching up and back with the right arm. Rotate the top arm like you’re turning the pinky finger towards the floor.
Increase Hamstring Flexibility
Insofar as Dolphin pose requires shoulder strength, it equally calls upon a need for space in the back body to be able to stack the hips over the shoulders, without the shoulders moving forward of the elbows.
From Big Toe pose (Padangusthasana) to Standing Splits to Half Splits pose (Ardha Hanumanasana), these postures focus on creating length through the back of the legs and encourage a forward folding of the body. Specific to the fold, think about moving the front of the abdomen towards the front of the thigh(s).
If you are tighter through the back body, it may be necessary to bend the knee adequately so there is minimal space between the heart and thighs. This helps to maintain optimal length through the lumbar spine, and furthermore, encourages deep core activation.
Be mindful to not round your back while folding forward, and instead, with every inhalation, draw the armpits away from the pelvis. At the exhalation, pull the crown of your head towards (and beyond) the tops of your feet.
Forearm Plank and Core
From prone position, lift up onto the elbows, setting them underneath the shoulders. Place the hands shoulder-width apart, and spread the fingers. With the feet hip-width apart, curl the toes under, straighten the knees. Pull in strongly through the navel and on your exhale, draw the pelvis away from the floor to the line of the shoulders.
Focus strongly on keeping the elbows hugging into the midline, as they may want to splay out, particularly if you are tight in the shoulders. Stay long through the neck, gazing between the thumbs or index fingers. At every exhalation, tighten the abdomen, lifting the belly button towards the spine.
Tip: if you are unable to hug the forearms into the midline, take a block, and rotate the wrists outwards so the palms face the block, and squeeze the block with your palms.
One entry into Dolphin pose is from Forearm Plank pose (see above).
Step the inner feet together so the legs can squeeze into the midline. Inhale to prepare, and as you exhale, begin to walk the feet forward towards the elbows so the pelvis begins to lift up towards the sky. You will recruit the muscles of the shoulders, back, and core in order to stabilize the posture.
Be aware of:
- Hugging the forearms actively into the midline (refer to the ‘tip’ in Forearm Plank pose if you are tighter in the shoulders)
- Press the forearms down into the floor, which, in this orientation to the floor, is considered upward rotation of the shoulders.
- Move the abdomen towards the top of the thighs, and press the top of the thighs back to lengthen the spine, particularly the lumbar region.
- If the hamstrings are tight, keep a bend in the knees.
- Let the head relax and hang towards the floor to keep the neck soft and long.
Counter and Close
As a lot of attention was on strengthening the front body, we can start to create balance in the body through gentle to moderate backbends—Cobra pose, Locust pose, Bridge pose to name a few. Think of postures that broaden the space across the chest, and also lengthen the abdomen.
As the hips have been mostly in neutral, some external rotation of the hips, as done in Pigeon pose and Garland pose, could also be handy.
Create a grounding quality with these final postures through slower breath, and longer holds where possible. End with Savasana.
Image credit: Ania