If I received a dollar for every time a person tells me they're not good at yoga because they're inflexible...
Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not just for the super flexible. However trying to obtain a position outside our comfort zone can be frustrating and stem feelings of discouragement. What you have to be aware of, is that there are boundless alternatives and levels to a yoga pose, and it's these modifications that will help you achieve maximum results for both your body and mind.
Flexibility is an essential part of our everyday lives. Turning our heads to check our blind spot when switching lanes while driving, or bending down to pick something up off the floor, yoga can increase our flexibility and range of movement over time. Do you have to turn your entire body around to reach something on the table behind you, or does your shoulder mobility provide that reach alone?
Another important point to remember, is that everyone's bodies are different. So what might work for someone else, might not be what your body needs. That's why it's always encouraged to keep your awareness to within the four corners of your mat when practising, rather than worrying about what the expression of the pose being attempted by the person on the mat next to you.
Don't feel bad about taking advantage of modifications that are offered to you. In fact, it's these modifications that will help you progress to the next level at a much faster and safer rate.
Here are six yoga poses that can be modified so that you can reach your level of flexibility.
Downward-Facing Dog: If you've got a tight low back or hamstrings, step the feet out wider than your hips and bend your knees. I love putting a deep bend in my knees in this pose to emphasise length in my lumbar spine. If you've got tight shoulders, you can also turn your hands outward toward the top corners of the mat.
Upward-Facing Dog: Take Cobra Pose instead, by keeping the thighs on the mat, and gently rest your palms on the floor underneath your shoulders. As you inhale, lift your head, neck and chest off of the ground slightly while pressing firmly into the ground with your thighs and feet. At the same time, hover your palms off the floor to encourage your back muscles to activate and strengthen without putting excess pressure in the lower back area.
Halfway Lift: If you find you are rounding through your spine with your fingertips on the floor, move your hands up to your shins. If your hamstrings lack flexibility, open the feet a little bit wider than the hips, bend the knees, lengthen through the vertebrae, core activated, and reach the crown of the head forward, gazing to the earth to keep the spine straight and supported.
Triangle Pose: If your inner thighs, groin, and hamstrings are too tight for the full expression of triangle, try placing your right hand onto your shin instead of on the ground. Keep your left hand on your hip. Bring your legs a little bit closer together (so about 3 feet apart).
Child's Pose: If your hips are tight, open the knees as wide as the mat and keep the big toes touching behind you. Then lean forward with your arms and reach your glutes back toward your heels. If your shoulders are tight, reach your arms out toward the front corners of the mat so that they're a little bit wider than your shoulders.
Crescent Lunge: If you feel like you're wearing your shoulders as earrings as you each your arms to the sky, try taking your arms out wide to the sides or bending at the elbows into a cactus shape (as pictured here with my Activ Life students in the Cayman Islands) to relax the shoulders down and release the neck. Imagine you are squeezing a pencil in between your shoulder blades for that ultimate openness throughout the chest.
Give these modifications a go and let me know what you think in the comments. Do what feels good.
Louise FitzRoy is the Principal of Activ Life, a leading health and wellness company based in the Cayman Islands. If you enjoyed this article you may also like: 5 yoga moves with your chair and 4 forward fold mistakes (and how to correct them).