Downward Facing Dog can be a great way to stretch and strengthen the shoulders. In a traditional down dog, the body forms a long line from wrist to waist, so that the armpits are yawning toward the ground. The elbow creases spin forward, causing the shoulder blades to root onto the back and providing stability. Within this framework, the chest and head can relax toward the floor, causing a slight “funneling” of the spine downward. Unfortunately, because of limits in both strength and flexibility, many people feel fatigued, strained, and uneasy in down dog. The limits may be in the wrist or the hamstrings but these limits can result in an incomplete stretch at the shoulders and armpit chest.
A simple solution is to remove the obstacles that prevent the shoulder stretch. Instead of a down dog on the floor, consider a similar shape up against the wall. By standing at the wall, you’ll remove the hamstrings from the equation. By planting forearms, the wrists won’t have any trouble. You’ll get a pure shoulder (and ribcage) stretch.
A simple modification helps people with particularly tight shoulders: instead of paralleling the forearms, clasp your hands together, but leave your elbows at shoulder width apart. On the other hand, for more strength focus, parallel your arms and squeeze a yoga block between your hands. In this case, the palms face each other to squeeze the block.
Recent research has touted this arm position as a savior for people suffering from certain shoulder injuries, but I recommend it just for everyday use. Plus it seems like a better use for an office wall then a poster of a soaring eagle.