When I tell people that I am a yoga instructor, the most common response is, “I wish I could do yoga. I just can’t because I’m not flexible enough.” It may seem intimidating to begin a yoga practice, and it’s possible that certain poses may require your body to move in new and different ways. Some movements may fit your body well and some may not—and that is O.K. Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to fit your yoga practice to your body so that you can feel successful and begin to realize that you can, in fact, do yoga.
First, begin to think of each yoga practice as a chance to survey your body and adapt the poses to fit your needs. Each yoga journey is unique, so your pose may not look like your neighbor’s. Each pose is designed to offer a new perspective on mobility, stability, strength or grace.
Second, you can change the shape of any pose to fit your needs or preferences. Regardless of the pose, it’s important to maintain spinal alignment. An aligned spine maintains a natural s-curve, with the neck and pelvis in a neutral position, and reduces the risk of injury. As you flow through poses, be purposeful about engaging the core to maintain this posture. Engage the muscles surrounding the shoulders, the hips and back. Maintaining neutral spine sometimes requires poses to be adapted to fit your unique body.
Here are a few easy ways you can adapt any pose or transition to suit your individual needs:
- Widen the base of support. In standing position, this means placing your feet hip-width or wider apart. Some yoga poses call for standing with your feet touching or close together, but you can always take your feet wider for more stability. The same can be said for positions such as plank or downward facing dog—utilizing a wider stance can help you feel more stable.
- Bend your knees. This option is particularly helpful in forward fold-based positions, but can be used anytime you choose. In forward fold, focus on hinging at the hips. Bending the knees can make this more comfortable and effective for many people. Pairing bent knees with a wider stance can be particularly helpful if you have tightness in the hamstrings and/or lower back.
- Shorten the lever. This means bending the elbows or knees when moving the arms or legs away from the center of the body. If a pose calls for extending the arms overhead, you could bend your elbows to more of a field goal post position to alleviate pressure on the shoulders or low back. Likewise, if a pose calls for straight legs, you can bend the knees. The longer the lever, the more challenging the pose.
- Prop it up. Use a block, bolster, strap or other tool to enhance your pose. There is no shame in using a prop or taking a knee to adapt the pose to your needs. Yoga props can make poses more effective, comfortable and accessible. In fact, using a prop signifies that you are in tune with your body and adapting a pose to suit your needs.
- Choose child’s pose. There may be days when you need more rest. Don’t hesitate to skip a pose or take a moment to rest in child’s pose.
With these options, you can change the shape of any pose. Remember to engage your core and align the spine. Listen to your body and honor how you feel in each moment. Solicit the advice of an instructor to learn more ways to modify poses as needed.
Yoga is about exploring the mind and body. This means that you can truly make your yoga practice your own. Practice with curiosity and acceptance and you will find that yes, you can do yoga.
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