Modifying Your Yoga Practice

Anytime you hit the mat, you should feel comfortable making your practice your own. Modifying poses or using props are always options to take your practice where it needs to go- whether that means pushing a little deeper or taking a step back when your body needs it. Sometimes, however, it can be difficult to tell just when modifications are necessary. Here, I’ll outline some common cues to needed modifications.

YOUR BREATH

This is perhaps the most important cue your body can give you. If you notice that you’re holding your breath, you’re short of breath, or you’re breathing through your mouth, these are all signs of stress in the body. That means it’s important to take a step back and give your body time to catch up.

Suggested modifications: 

  • Drop down to child’s pose, and focus on reconnecting with your breath and breathing in and out through your nose.
  • If you’re in a lunging pose, drop the back knee to lessen the activeness of the posture.
  • If you’re in the middle of a flow, hold each pose longer and move slower than the teacher is cuing (it’s really okay!).
  • Skip some chaturangas and head straight back to down dog.

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HIGH PLANK

If your hips are dropping below your shoulders, or you have to press your hips up high in the air, you may not have enough strength built in your core to hold high plank just yet. Even though it may seem like you’re working harder by pushing yourself to hold “the fullest expression” of this pose, you’ll actually gain more strength by holding the modified version of the posture and working your way towards more difficult variations. Another cue that this pose isn’t quite right for this practice is extreme pain in your wrists.

Suggested modifications:

  • Drop down onto your knees and press your shoulders past your wrists until you feel your lower belly engage. You can place a blanket under your knees to cushion your joints.
  • Lower down onto your forearms to release the pressure from your wrists.
  • Hold downward facing dog while the rest of the class holds plank. You will still be working hard!

 

DOWNWARD FACING DOG

If you find yourself struggling to hold this pose, or feel discomfort in your wrists, it may be time to modify.

Suggested modifications:

  • Check out your form- if this pose feels more like plank than down dog, your hands and feet may be too far apart from one another!
  • Lower onto your forearms to relieve stress from your wrists- this is dolphin pose, and isn’t exactly restful! But it will take some pressure off your hands.
  • If you’re having trouble stepping your foot through between your hands in transitions, place a block underneath each hand, or use your hand to guide the foot through.

 

CHATURANGA

If your chest or hips hit the ground before the rest of your body, you feel pain or overuse in your shoulders, or you feel yourself just kinda flopping down without control, it’s necessary to modify your chaturanga in order to prevent injury.

Suggested modifications:

  • Use two blocks, one underneath your chest and one underneath your hips, to practice hitting the earth in one solid line.
  • Lower down onto your knees.
  • Lower all the way down to the earth instead of halfway.
  • Skip them altogether!

 

Let’s talk about chaturangas! Chaturanga, or low push-up, is an extremely common posture in Vinyasa Flow: in fact, it’s an integral part of the style! Chaturangas are a linking posture between sequences, and are perfect for building arm and core strength. As a teacher, chaturangas are probably the pose I see most often performed with form at high risk of injury. They are fairly technical, so let’s break it down. ️ ✔️Strong core, belly button pressing back toward spine. ✔️ Elbows magnetized toward ribcage. ✔️Gaze slightly forward, relaxed neck. ✔️Thighs squeezing together and quadriceps engaged. ✔️Hips in line with shoulders. ✔️Elbows bent to 90 degrees, not dipping the shoulders down below the hips. ✔️Palms directly beneath shoulders, fingers spread wide. Take your chaturangas slow and controlled: never rush through them! Sloppy form over time can lead to serious injury and consequences later down the line. It’s always an open to place your knees down or lower all the way to the earth. Vinyasa away!

A video posted by Maris Degener (@yogamaris) on Oct 18, 2015 at 7:43pm PDT

 

LUNGES/WARRIORS

If you experience extreme fatigue in any lunge or warrior pose, it’s important to modify so as to avoid injuring yourself. Safe form is extremely important, and when you push yourself too far past exhaustion, safe form flies out the window.

Suggested modifications:

  • Lower the back knee.
  • If your arms are fatigued, clasp them behind your back and open up your heart, or place them on your hips.
  • Place two blocks on either side of your front foot and place your palms on them for support.
  • Use a blanket to cushion the back knee.
  • If the teacher gives the option to reach for the back foot, use a strap to help you out.

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BALANCING POSES

Feeling wobbly is a good thing! But sometimes, you need some stability. If your torso is nearly upright and you don’t feel much core engagement, it’s a good idea to modify. It’s also smart to modify if you feel extreme discomfort in your hips, hamstrings, or calves.

Suggested modifications:

  • Use blocks to bring the earth closer to you.
  • Use a wall for balance.
  • If there is an assistant in class, they may offer you their shoulder for support. Take it!
  • Bring your hands to your heart instead of reaching straight ahead or up in tree pose or warrior III.

 

HIP-OPENERS

Sometimes, hip openers can be difficult to access, even if you’re a “flexible person”. If you cannot hold the pose without losing connection with your breath, or you feeling any sharp or shooting pain, find a way to modify this pose to suit your body.

Suggested modifications:

  • In half pigeon or shoelace/cowface pose, it’s always an option to recline onto your back and do the reclining version of the posture.
  • Use a blanket underneath your hip or knee in cowface/shoelace pose, double pigeon, or half pigeon.
  • Use two blocks underneath your knees in supra baddha konasana (reclined butterfly) pose to lessen the hip opener.

 

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These are some of the most common modifications I see in my classes, and the ones I use myself! It’s important to remember that each time you step on your mat, your body is different. Poses you didn’t have to modify yesterday you may have to modify today- and that is perfect. How your body feels or performs in any given moment is just that- a reflection of a single moment in your lifelong practice.

I once read a quote that said something along the lines of, “Yoga poses don’t cause injuries, egotistical movements cause injuries.” Pushing yourself too hard into a pose because you want it to look a certain way won’t do you, or your body, any good. Keep your practice safe, sustainable, and always evolving!

xoxo

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. I love this post. I often take modifications in class due to weak hip flexors and plantar fasciitis. There were a few pointers in here that I didn’t think of or my teacher hasn’t cued me through. She always says “This is YOUR practice. Do what feels good in your body today. What felt good yesterday may not feel good today.” Its a great reminder.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. marisdegener says:

      I’m glad you found this helpful! So many students know that modifying is an option, but don’t know the actual modifications available to them!

      Like

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