Making Yoga Work For You: 5 Modified Yoga Poses To Deepen Your Practice

Melissa Nordin
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I admit that at one time I thought the term modification in yoga practice was akin to a dirty word. “I don’t need that,” I would think to myself. “Those words are for quitters.”

When I became a teacher, I realized just how off the path I was. Modified asana yoga practice has a well-deserved and respected place in today’s fast paced, heart-thumping, physically demanding yoga practice, and not just for aging or injured yogis. Modifications and props are the best-kept secret to going deeper in our practice, twisting further, and gaining strength both on and off the mat.

The secret to making yoga work is in the details. I struggled for years to find alignment until I decided to look at my yoga practice “from the mat” and not from the eyes of others. Transitioning into and out of yoga poses became my gauge, and mindfulness became my guide.

Make your yoga mat your experimental laboratory.

Become your own yoga “scientist.” Roll out your mat, grab a few tools, and look at your body from your mat’s perspective. Feel the sense of freedom in your practice. Give yourself permission to let go of expectations and find your own way. Using these props and living “from the mat” helped me get the help I needed, and allowed me to explore deeper expressions of the pose. Modification went from “unmentionable” to secret weapon.

Props are not just for inflexible folks; blocks, straps, and bolsters help advance your yoga practice. Props help smooth out the places where our practice becomes more difficult due to our unique bones, connective tissue, and joints. Our joints and their range of motion will eventually improve with correct use. Have fun, and remember to be open to creative possibilities with props in your yoga practice. Don’t be afraid to make it up as you go along. It’s your mat, your body, your yoga.

 

The following 5 poses are ideal for using props whether you’re a new student or a seasoned practitioner. Here are my 5 favorite poses for using props:

1. Camel Pose

Directions:

Come onto the knees, bringing them hip-width distance apart. Place hands on hips, and shift your pelvis forward. Activate your glutes to help you stabilize, and activate core belly muscles to curve the sacrum downward.

bow-pose

Modify:

Place blocks under hands or a bolster across calves. Benefits of this modification:

  • help muscles stretch across the chest
  • strengthen the extension of your backbend in the midspine
  • increase range of motion in the shoulders without straining the shoulder joint
  • deepen the hip flexor stretch
  • tone glutes

Go Deeper:

Move blocks farther back behind you to extend shoulder range of motion, press hips more forward to increase backbend, engage glutes and elongate thigh muscles to extend hip range of motion.

2. Triangle Pose

Directions:

From a standing position, step one leg back, lining up pinkie side of foot with back of the mat while front foot has toes facing forward. Straighten both legs, take arms into a “T” formation, and align front arm with front leg. Squeeze shoulder blades towards the midline, activate core belly muscles to curve sacrum downward. Extend hips towards the back and reach the front arm forward. Tip at the mid point and bring the bottom hand to the front shin while your top arm reaches skyward.

triangle-pose-red

Modify:

Place a block under the bottom hand. Benefits of this modification:

  • increase sidebody stretch from grounded foot to leg, hip, and shoulder
  • increase awareness of arm alignment from wrist to shoulder
  • aids range of motion in shoulders and hips
  • allows pelvis to tip forward, encouraging core engagement

Go Deeper:

Begin to open the extended arm towards the backbody. This allows for more freedom in the mid thoracic back, shoulders, and rib cage to explore spinal flexibility in a backbend.

3. Half Moon Balancing Pose

(This is an advanced pose made easier with props)

Directions:

From extended side angle, place bottom hand slightly in front of and to the outside of the front foot. Shift to front hand and foot supporting the body, stack the hips, activate core belly muscles to curve the sacrum downward, and activate glutes. Slowly begin to extend and straighten front leg as back leg is lifted to hip height.

half-moon-balance-pose

Modify:

Place a block under the grounded hand. Benefits of this modification:

  • stabilizes and helps you maintain balance
  • supports the shoulder joint range of motion
  • stretches chest muscles

Go Deeper:

Using the block allows exploration in the elevated arm and leg without fear of falling. This helps with binding and also transitioning to advanced poses like Flip Dog Pose.

4. Bridge Pose

Directions:

Starting on your back, bend knees and place feet on ground. Press shoulders and back of head into the mat, activate the glutes, and lift your torso and hips skyward.

bridge-pose

Modify:

Place a block under the sacrum. Benefits of this modification:

  • frees the lumbo-sacral space at the base of the spine
  • creates a gravity-free feeling in the abdominals
  • lengthens tight thigh muscles
  • strengthens weak glutes found in chronic low back pain

Go Deeper:

Take the block up higher for an increased range of motion in the low thoracic spine and hips. This helps in transitioning to advanced poses like lifting one leg, Shoulder Stand or Plough Pose.

5. Crow Pose

(This is an advanced pose made easier with props)

Directions:

From a low squat, plant your palms directly in front of you, and place your knees on the back of your bent upper arms. Engage the core, and round your spine as you lift your feet off the mat.

crow-pose

Modify:

Place a block under the forehead. Benefits of this modification:

  • isolates the entire core without compromising the vertebrae
  • reduces anxiety of falling
  • increases strength and conditioning in the arms and core

Go Deeper:

Place the block under the feet to experience the “lift” while remaining grounded.

 

Props are the secret weapon collecting dust in the corner of every studio or corporate gym akin to Aladdin’s buried magic lamp in the Cave of Wonders. These soft foam blocks are the most effective way to make yoga work for you instead of trying to make your body fit every single yoga pose. Don’t be afraid to modify and use props. Leave your ego at the door, and set the intention of meeting your practice right where you are today. You’ll be amazed at the places you’ll go.

This article has been read 10K+ times. Bada bing!

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Melissa Nordin

Melissa is a yoga teacher and Clinical Exercise Physiologist who blends the wisdom of yoga practice with the science of corrective exercise and nutrition. Melissa believes mindfulness is the key to happiness and brings that philosophy into her yoga classes, workshops, and writing.

melissanordin.com

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