One of the best asanas for strengthening the upper body – in particular, the shoulder girdle and serratus anterior muscles – Dolphin is the gateway to inversions such as sirsasana (headstand), Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm balance) and Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand).While many people assume yoga to be ‘all about flexibility’, some of the more profound benefits come from when we work with strength, as this also helps in moving towards a stronger mind and sense of self trust….
When we work on strengthening poses, it’s important to respect our boundaries, and to know that it takes time and patience to safely build up to those asanas which require more physical effort.
Holding ourselves with muscular effort requires both courage and honesty; the courage to challenge ourselves to move beyond our comfort zone, and the honesty to let ourselves back off and rest when we know we need to.
The good thing about Shishulasana is that you’ve already been practicing basic elements of it with downward facing dog – although here the whole forearms are on the floor.
Open in to the shoulders and strengthen the chest muscles with a few rounds of sun salutations – holding plank for a few more breaths than usual, and practicing chatturanga. Practice your prasarita padottanasana C, and take the arms in to Garudasana (eagle position) to open out the trapezius so your shoulders have the room they need to work in this pose.
Get a sense of your core strength by placing a block between the thighs and squeezing in with the legs to engage the lower abdominals when you first begin practicing Dolphin pose – this will help to really integrate strength throughout the whole asana.
- From a kneeling position, take the forearms to the floor in front of you, shoulder width apart and the palms of the hands flat to the floor.
- *Press the palms down and towards each other without moving them, as this helps to keep the shoulder blades firmly on the back and engaged.
- Tuck your toes and lift the hips as you would for downward facing dog
- Keep pressing the whole forearms in to the floor, and keep the shoulders away from the ears – lifting up instead of sinking between the shoulder blades.
- Walk the feet in as much as you can while maintaining a long, extended spine.
- Engage the belly, with a sensation of pulling ‘in and up’ and engage mula bandha (a lift of the pelvic floor), which is the key to holding many strong asanas.
- Stay here for 5-10 breaths, or however many you can manage while respecting when you need to stop.
- To come out, lower the knees to the floor on an exhale and rest back on your heels in balasana, maybe taking the arms behind you to relax the shoulders you’ve just been working.
- Practice this a few times, and build up to being able to hold this pose for atleast 15 breaths before attempting full sirsasana.
*If you’re already feeling strong in your Dolphin pose, practice variations such as lifting each leg, or dolphin ‘push ups’.