When downward dog is stressful rather than restful

Anyone else not find downward dog the most restful pose? With an increase in home exercise and zoom classes during lockdown it seems yoga has taken off. But a common comment is that “my wrists are taking strain”. Agree!, as I hold myself in downward dog and the instructor reminds me that this is a resting prose and I feel anything but rested. I try to slow my breathing,  I could of course be in childs pose which is way more restful, but I think to myself, I can’t always take that option (but of course I could).

Anyway for those of you doing yoga and thinking my wrists are taking strain, here are some practical tips.

  1. roll your mat over to take some strain off the wrists
  2. make a fist so there is no flexion at the wrist
  3. rest on your forearms- dolphin pose instead of downward dog, as an example. Or still do childs pose (this is me)
  4. strengthen around your shoulder girdle- what this article is about.

So the stronger we are around the hips and pelvis the more we unload the lower leg (knee and ankle), the same is true for the shoulder girdle. The stronger we are around the shoulder girdle- shoulder blade (scapular) the more we unload the elbows and wrists. So this series of exercises is for just that.


  • stronger around shoulder and shoulder blade unload elbows and wrist.
  • Watch out for passively locking out at the elbows. Try soften the elbow a little, and push up through your shoulder blade.
  • If your shoulders and arms are a weaker, use lower leg strength to help strengthen your arms. Try this for yourself- take a set of dumbbells and do a shoulder press. Now try to do sit to stand with a set of dumbbells and do a shoulder press. Should feel easier. The power of the lower limbs works through the kinetic chain to get more power in the arms. If we think about our shoulders if we reach into a high cupboard we often reach onto our toes, using the lower leg to power up. It has been shown in tennis players who have a lower limb injury, that a deficit of 20% in the lower leg, requires an 80% greater output in the serving arm. That is huge. So next time you are in warrior one holding you arms up, think about powering up through you legs, to lighten those arms.

In the video clip we will look at a few exercises and the progressions of them. The video is a demo of some exercise ideas to strengthen that shouder girdle. If you do the exercise aim for 8-12 reps. It is important to do slow and controlled movements, and not rush. Quality trumps quantity.

  1. wall push up- feeling how the shoulder blade moves from squeezing together–>neutral–>push up plus. Feeling that there are different positions of the shoulder blade
  2. Hug a bear series- big grizzly, mamma bear and a baby bear.
  3. Hug a bear series with lunges- taking advantage of the lower limb to do the same exercise.
  4. Sit to stand with shoulder press using resistance band- using the principle of powering through the lower legs to get the shoulders stronger
  5. 4 point kneeling- shoulder blade squeeze to push up plus
  6. 4 point kneeling- arm lift, leg lift, then opposite arm and leg lift
  7. 4 point kneeling- opposite arm and leg lifts
  8. 4 point kneeling- bird dog with resistance band
  9. seal on the ball- this adds an unstable surface, and sometimes a bit of fun. In terms of yoga you get to have that sense of actually pulling yourself forward.

Have fun and try adding a few of these exercises to you non-yoga days, it may help that downward dog be more of a resting pose…

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