Making Yoga Work for You: Modifications for Every Body


“I’m Not Very Good At Yoga”

The other day during lunch a beautiful woman with large blue eyes trepidaciously approached me.  “I’m not very good at yoga,” she said, wringing her hands. “Can I still take the class?”

My response: “Of course. It’s not about the pose; it’s where your mind goes during class.”  Many people think that if they can’t touch their toes or go into headstand, they aren’t “doing” yoga.

As Long As You Feel A Stretch – It’s Yoga

The truth be told, as long as you feel a stretch, you are doing yoga.  And it only takes about three weeks before you will be able to notice a difference in flexibility.  For me, every three months I notice some benefit I have received from my regular yoga practice, whether it is more flexibility or strength, less stress, or the ability to look at a stressful situation in my life with more clarity.

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Yoga For Weight Loss?[end-div]You are not practicing yoga if you are thinking about what to make for dinner or that you need to  contact that old friend from high school that you’ve lost touch with over the years.  Being present in the moment, knowing that nothing else matters except being on your mat, is vital to yoga practice.

Oh, and I’m not perfect, as I bend into forward fold, peering at my toes, and judging myself that I need a pedicure.  However, when I catch myself thinking that, I take a big exhale, let go of the thought, and then let go of the judgment I might hold against myself for having the thought to begin with.

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Too Fat For Yoga?[end-div]Essential for your yoga practice is making sure you are honoring and respecting your body, listening to all the messages your body is sending you, and knowing that you are invited to come into a rest pose or modify your pose if there is a pose that does not feel like a good choice for the body you have today.   I encourage you to connect with your yoga instructor before class and let her know of any orthopedic issues you might have so she can assist with modifications.

Modifying Yoga Poses

Some written modification examples for common yoga poses:

common-yoga-posesChild’s Pose

If this pose bothers your knees, tuck a blanket behind your buttocks or even lift your buttocks high in the air to put less pressure on your knees, focusing on the stretch in the arms, upper back and shoulders.

Cat/Cow Pose

If carpal tunnel is a concern, you can use fists for wrists or even do this pose in a seated position, arching and flexing the back, focusing on the range of motion of your entire spine.  A pad or folded blanket under the knees will also offer extra cushion support.

Downward Facing Dog

If tight hamstrings make this pose difficult, begin with bent knees, aiming the tailbone up to the sky, focusing on lengthening the back.  As the backs of the legs begin to loosen, slowly start to peddle one heel at a time down toward the mat.  If a wrist injury makes this pose impossible, you can still receive all the upper back and shoulder strengthening benefits by interlacing your fingers together, coming onto your elbows, lifting up the back side of the body into Dolphin pose.  Another alternative is from a standing position and placing your hands on a sturdy chair in front of you, bending over for a luxurious stretch to the back side of the body.


Oh, everyone loves this powerful hip opener since we hold so much tension in our hips.  But what if too much pressure bothers your knees?  You can do the Upside Down Pigeon by lying on your back, crossing your ankle to the opposite knee and lifting up your bottom leg.  Same great stretch to the outer hips, but protecting your knees.

Easy Seated Pose

This isn’t so easy if you have knee replacements.  You can modify this pose by sitting on your block or on a blanket, which helps put less pressure on your knees.

Shoulder Stand

Legs Up The Wall is my favorite inversion alternative to Shoulder Stand. By lying on your back, scooching your buttocks as close to a wall as possible with feet straight up (like an “L”), you can receive inversion benefits without the pressure on your upper spine, a must for anyone with osteoporosis.

Other modification options can include doubling up your mat for extra padding, using props like blocks and straps or even doing the poses in a chair seated position.

Last Thoughts On Being ‘Good’ At Yoga

I am happy to say that sweet lady did try the class, and left with a peaceful smile on her proud face.  Internally, I cheered a silent applause.

So what does being ‘good’ at yoga really look like?  Honoring your body, being present in the moment, and having the courage to trust yourself to step onto that yoga mat.

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4 responses to “Making Yoga Work for You: Modifications for Every Body”

  1. Cindy says:

    Great post, Lori. I will take your words to heart no matter what kind of exercise I’m engaged in. I’ve just started walking again, and find myself thinking a lot about “when I used to run…” Good grief! I have to remind myself to just enjoy the time by myself, the fact that I’m improving, the fresh air and luxury of getting outdoors. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  2. Lisa C. Briggs says:

    I love yoga and have a yoga teacher who always reminds us that yoga is really about the breath… about breathing in and breathing out and finding a way to soften our body, our thoughts….The poses are a way to find the breath and learn mindfulness…Staying in present time, in our bodies… so good for balancing the nervous system…

  3. AmberLynn Pappas says:

    My first experience with yoga was teaching it Green Mountain as an intern. I thought it wasn’t for me then either as my forward fold was me hanging with my finger tips somewhere around the tops of my knee caps. 10 years later I am teaching other yoga instructors, practice daily and can now wake up any morning and touch the floor in that forward fold. Yoga is for everyone and can totally transform your life!

  4. Cindy says:

    I always end up laughing in yoga when they say to go into child’s pose if you are tired in any pose. Child’s pose is shear agony for my knees.
    My worry about yoga is that sometimes they have you go from something like downward dog and lower yourself into a twisted pigeon pose. I never recognize it is happening until too late and now I’m stuck and it hurts to fall to the right and it hurts to fall to the left and I don’t have the strength to push back up into the downward dog. Anyway I have never actually hurt myself but I need to listen more closely and remember what that pose is called so I can avoid it.

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