Yoga for Beginners: Pose Modifications

So many people believe they can’t do yoga because they are not flexible enough. And, honestly, I can see why. Many of the most basic yoga poses can be challenging for beginners.

And while gaining flexibility is one of the benefits of doing yoga, allowing your body time and consistency through practice is what yoga is all about. Adapting poses and using props to assist your body at your current level of flexibility and strength is what makes yoga so accessible to everyone.

The poses may look daunting, but what if it’s simpler than you think? Here’s a quick guide to modify the main poses of Sun Salutation A so you can feel confident and safe while practicing yoga:

Forward Fold – Modify this deep forward bend by placing hands on a chair, coffee table or high-set blocks. Bend the knees as much as you need in order to drape your torso over your thighs and relax your head and neck.

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     Expert Tip: Root equally through the balls and heels of the feet; press the navel into the spine and relax your head and neck.

Downward-Facing Dog – Try modifying this inversion by placing hands on a chair, coffee table, or high-set blocks. Puppy dog is another great way to access downward facing dog. Bend the knees as much as you need in order to maintain a straight spine and shift the weight into your feet.

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     Expert Tip: Disperse the energy in your hands by spreading all of your fingers apart and rooting through the knuckle pads — create just enough lift in the rim of the wrist that someone could slip a business card under your palm.

Chaturanga – This challenging strength builder requires great body awareness to maintain alignment and control. Reduce the workload by lowering to your knees.

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     Expert Tip: Imagine that your chest must touch the floor just before your pelvis; this will keep you from sagging your hips and pinching the lower back. Also, hug your elbows into your ribs and slide the shoulders down, away from the ears as you reach your chest forward.

Upward-Facing Dog – This powerful pose requires a healthy understanding of pelvic alignment to avoid pinching in the lower back, but also demands strength and proper placement of the spine and upper body. Try mastering Baby Cobra first, or if you have wrist issues, Sphinx Pose is a great option to build strength with alignment.

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     Expert Tip: Tuck the tailbone down toward the heels to lengthen the low back and engage the abdomen. Slide shoulders down away from ears and keep elbows soft as hands press down and back against the floor — this helps shift the chest forward as the heart opens.

Child’s Pose – This nourishing pose often creates tension rather than ease. A few quick props can bring Child’s Pose back to a place of rejuvenation. Place a thin pillow or folded blanket between the hips and heels to relieve tightness in the hips and knees. Set a rolled up towel or block under your forehead to support the head, neck, and spine, or drape your body over a bolster.

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     Expert Tip: Separate the knees as wide as you can to create space for your torso. Gently press the forehead into the floor/block/towel as if pushing the skin of the forehead down; this helps elongate the neck and spine.

Savasana – The most relaxing poses are sometimes the most challenging! Place a bolster or pillow under your knees to support a tight lower back or place your heels on a cushioned chair. A thin pillow under your neck can help alleviate pain and create alignment from the crown of the head down through the spine.


     Expert Tip: Tuck your shoulders under the body, lengthening them away from the ears to create space in the neck, then roll the palms open so the backs of the hands are resting on the floor. Use visualizations to melt into relaxation; see your muscles melting off the bone and feel your jaw softening; even your eyeballs can sink back into their sockets.

Yoga really is accessible to everyone — knowing how to make each pose available for your body and fitness level opens you up to what’s possible. Then you, too, will realize just how valuable and transformative yoga can be at any stage of life.

In Love & Gratitude,

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Missi Holt

This is just the beginning; learn more about yoga with my yoga programs!

Missi Holt

Missi Holt is the fitness and nutrition editor for Early to Rise. She is a master nutrition therapist, certified yoga trainer, Certified Turbulence Trainer and an NSCA certified personal trainer (CPT). She also provides fitness and nutrition therapy through her own organization, Whole Life Health.