Back to Yoga Basics: How to Modify Your Yoga Practice

How to modify your yoga practice…..

Hell yes.

I am thrilled to be jamming about this topic with our yoga community and even more thrilled that the below guide is available to learn from, practice on your own, and maybe share with your fellow yogi tribe too. Okay, modifications, I am mega passion about them, love to share modifications with yogis of all levels (especially beginners), and wholeheartedly believe we can all benefit from them.

If you’re 100% new to the yoga community, let me first explain what a modification is and why I’m here preaching to you about it today.

Yoga Modification:

(noun) – a variation of a yoga posture that’s designed to help people access the pose in a more enjoyable, safe and appropriate way.

To Modify:

(verb) – the action of modifying a yoga posture to better suit your personal needs, on the mat, and in that moment.

So while it’s great that yoga modifications exist, it’s not so great if we don’t actually modify our yoga practice in that pivotal moment. But what the hell is that pivotal moment?

Well, it usually looks + feels something like this:

  • Banana back shapes in plank, low-plank or forearm plank
  • Lower back compressing, pulling and/or being compromised
  • Knees enduring discomfort/pain
  • Hamstrings stretching to the point of ripping
  • The ego leading your practice, versus you leading the ego
  • Doing too much, when simple is enough
  • Desperately needing a yoga prop, but not knowing how or when to use one

Related: How to use Yoga Props

Let’s dive into each of these pivotal moments, because they will all happen, and become more aware about how to feel + make the right decision to modify.   Sounds like a plan, yeah?

Banana Back Shapes

If you’re new to yoga, not consistently working on cultivating a strong core, or simply being lazy, the banana back moment is inevitable. And even when you are “strong” and well aware of how to make the right shape, banana back is still easy to slip into, because – it’s easier than activating your core.

So what shapes do we commonly see/experience banana back in?

  • Plank pose
  • Chaturanga dandasana (low-plank)
  • Forearm plank
  • Inversions like headstand, forearm balance and handstand
  • Standing postures like crescent pose, warrior I, warrior II and chair pose

 ….. and many more. 

And now, how do we modify?

  • Any type of plank pose, drop your knees down to the ground, ain’t no shame in the knee game
  • Inversion postures – work on cultivating your core, use all the props, and then turn your world upside down
  • For standing postures, keep the lower ribs hugging down + in and the hip points hugging up towards the ribs (hello active core)

Low Back Pain/Discomfort

It’s hard to pinpoint this misalignment, because hot dam, the back is an incredibly complex part of our being and MANY aspects play into pain, discomfort and not feeling at ease. But here’s what I know.

  • Don’t be afraid to bend your knees or not bend them as deeply in postures like seated + standing forward folds, downward facing dog, or standing postures like half moon, triangle or warrior I
  • Do the pose at 75% or less, there’s no need for 100% because it’s not a competition, it’s a lifestyle and a lifetime practice
  • Integrate both core + glute work to better support your lower back
  • Do restorative postures like legs up the wall
  • Don’t do the pose, if it doesn’t feel good and you’re not aware of the modification, then make up your own

Knee Discomfort

Ooooh, I feel your pain friend and am right there with ya.

I’ve never been a big knee bender and have always had mild to moderate knee discomfort during physical activity. I can reminisce back being to a young girl (like thirteen young) and jogging alongside my mom and having knee pain then. Fast forward to now, and it’s definitely a part of my yoga practice that needs attention, extra time and all the right props.

Related: How to Protect Your Knees in Yoga

And of course, all the right modifications:

  • Don’t lock out your knees in straight-legged postures, instead invite a small bend
  • Use an extra thick yoga mat or a yoga knee pad to provide extra support
  • Do strengthen your glute + hamstring muscles for strong standing postures, versus front loading the pose and compromising the knee joint
  • Don’t do intense knee bent postures, like half or full hero pose, pigeon pose, or full lotus.

Hamstrings Ripping

To be fair, I’m being a bit dramatic here, although some could say that ripping is an appropriate adjective for some of the shapes us yogis make.

As a former gymnast/cheerleader, I’m a naturally  flexible person, but after years of sitting at a desk and not stretching consistently, my body no longer reacted well to the flexibility, even if I could make a shape, it wasn’t the right shape to make.

Let me paint a clearer picture.

I can do a seated forward fold and lay my chest atop my thighs, pulling the soles of my feet towards my face, stressing out my hamstrings, and cranking on my lower back to make the shape.

But is that necessary? Does it sounds like my body enjoys this shape?

No, it doesn’t enjoy it and it’s also not benefiting from it.

So how do we modify?

  • And we’re back to – bend the knees, bend the knees, and oh – bend the knees
  • When doing seated forward folds, don’t fold, but instead work on a lifted spine and hinging forward to promote proper pelvis rotation, a stronger core, and opening the hamstrings
  • Use props in seated postures like blankets, blocks and bolsters

Related: How to use Yoga Props

Ego Leading

Hello ego, it’s so nice to meet you on my yoga mat, and while I appreciate your best interests to look good, be the strongest, create the deepest shape, and always push my limits, I got this. I can handle it from here.

Sincerely, Allie – the girl who’s been burned by you too many times.

….. don’t worry, it’s normal for me to talk to myself.

Okay, the ego. 

This is a big + common topic in the yoga community and many wellness communities, because it’s real and it’s not going anywhere. And while some people preach to banish the ego, fuck the ego, or get rid of the ego, I think it serves a purpose and it’s part of us. Similar to fear, it has a purpose, but it’s not allowed to make decisions (except when we’re in life threatening moments).

When we step on our mat and operate from our ego, we run into trouble, period, drop the mic, and another period. And even though we know this trouble exists, many of us still make the shape that looks the most badass, receives the attention we crave, impresses our yoga neighbor, or gets the most likes on social media.

How do I know all of this….

Because I did it + still do it.   

But when we start to cause discomfort, pain and maybe even injury, that’s when the ego needs to be put in check and here’s how to do it:

  • Stop taking every vinyasa opportunity or maybe do absolutely none, just step it back to downward facing dog
  • Use props, always
  • Take a restorative class over a power flow class
  • Be okay with soft + supple (which is another form of strength)
  • Modify an entire class, every single pose, modify it
  • Don’t take the advanced pose the teacher offers, stay where you are
  • Don’t pull + strain to achieve the shape, it will come with time

Lack of Yoga Props

And to wrap up our how to modify your yoga practice conversation, let’s jam on props.

Well actually, there’s no need to jam, simply read the blog post below and grab the prop freebie that’s offered over there. And oh yeah, this is your last chance, grab your free how-to modify yoga guide below!

Until next time, xoxo

Related: How to use Yoga Props

Back to Yoga Basics: How to Modify Your Yoga Practice + a Free Modification Guide - pin now, learn more about your yoga practice now!

Hey! I’m Allie.

I’m a self-growth student, freedom-seeker, yoga teacher and the founder of a tight-knit online yoga community: the Body Mind Soul Studio. I’m here to teach you how to transform your life on-and-off-the-mat with a holistic yoga practice.

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If your practice has waned, if your yoga journey feels lonely or you like the way I share yoga’s teachings, then this is where you need to be. Join me once a month, for free, to practice yoga as a community.