Arm rotation in Downward Facing Dog

Marlene Henny takes us through a couple of techniques to practise the correct alignment for the arms in Downward Facing Dog.

Arm rotation in downward facing dog pose

Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) is one of the first yoga poses many people will learn. It’s brilliant for building strength and mobility in the whole body and is neutralising for the spine in between strong twists, forward bends or backbends.

Once you get the hang of Downward Dog it can be a wonderful resting pose. However, in Downward Facing Dog it’s quite common for people to roll the shoulders and upper arms inwards. This can scrunch up the shoulders and neck, creating tension and making the pose much harder to hold.

There are two opposite actions that need to happen in the arms in order to make it both comfortable and stable. You might have heard your teacher instructing you to ‘externally rotate your upper arms and internally rotate your lower arms’ but this can be confusing enough even when you’re not hanging upside down!

So Marlene Henny shares this easy way to learn how to position your arms and shoulders – while you’re still upright. This will make your Downward Dog easier and more comfortable to hold.

4 steps to a more comfortable Downward Dog

Step One

Sit on your heels with your open arms straight out to the sides, palms facing down.
Turn your palms upwards to roll the upper arms and shoulder heads back (so your thumb will be pointing behind you). 

External rotation
Turn your palm upwards

Allow the shoulder blades to draw down the back keeping the base of the neck free and relaxed. You might start to feel more space and ease in your neck and shoulders already.

Step Two

Then, keeping the upper arms and shoulder blades where they are (rolled back/externally rotated), turn your wrists so that the palms of your hands are now facing the ground.

Step Three

Keep this alignment and rotation and bring your arms to the front.  Keep the arm bones plugged back into their sockets to create a strong frame with your shoulders.

Marlene Henny showing arm position for Downward Dog while kneeling up
Bring your arms to the front

Step Four

Place the hands on the floor in front of you with your fingers spread. Think about creating a suction cup in the middle of your palm by pressing through the outer edges of the palm, the base of the fingers and the fingertips. When you tuck your toes and extend your legs into the pose, your upper arms stay rotating outwards instead of in and your shoulders will feel broad. This takes out the tension and you will feel way more relaxed and spacious in the shoulders. 

Marlene Henny showing Downward dog arms from the front
The upper arms stay externally rotated

If you feel tightness in your shoulders you can bring your shoulders a little bit forward instead of bringing shoulders back towards the thighs. Keep the shoulder blades on the back and stay here in the pose. Let your neck be in line with the spine allowing the energy to flow freely.

Remember you can always keep your knees a little bent in Downward Dog – this allows your spine to lengthen and can be more comfortable for your lower back and hamstrings. 

Watch Marlene’s class for more tips and instructions

Updated 2023

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Jenny SavageJenny Savage first started yoga at the age of 15 and took her teacher training with Esther Ekhart in 2013. She has a background in Health Psychology, community mental health work, and health and wellbeing research.