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For yoga beginners, you may find that some of the asanas (postures) that are taught in your yoga class may be much more challenging than you had expected. Over time, a consistent yoga practice provides many benefits, including reducing tension, lowering blood pressure, heightening relaxation, and more. However, as you begin your yoga practice, the classes may be confusing or even stressful as you do your best to keep up.
One of the great things about yoga is that the practice can always be modified to help you benefit as much as possible, even if you can’t twist your body into a pretzel. For yoga beginners or for anyone who is dealing with a physical challenge or limitation, there are many ways to make your yoga class more accessible by modifying postures to meet your needs.
Here are a few basic ground rules for modifications.
1. Be proactive. In many cases, the teacher will ask the class before it starts if anyone is dealing with any injuries or conditions. If the teacher does not ask, or if you don’t want the entire class to know your business, don’t be shy about approaching the teacher before the practice starts (or call them over at the beginning of class) to let them know that you will need to modify. Have on hand whatever props you will need to stay comfortable, such as blocks, straps, and cushions.
2. Avoid pain. Learn to differentiate between pain and discomfort, and if you feel physical pain while in a posture, come out of it. Relax in child’s pose or lie flat on the back in corpse pose, and let your teacher know that you need to rest. Give the body a minute or two to heal from the pain, and then ask the teacher for modification ideas. If the teacher doesn’t have any suggestions, just sit the posture out, breathing long and deep.
3. Do your homework. Modifications for postures vary depending on the individual needs of the student, and not all teachers are trained in specific modification styles. For example, a student who has never practiced yoga before and has very little core strength will want to modify postures differently than someone who has recently had breast cancer.
There are many books available now that will help guide you through modifications, so read up and be prepared. For example, older students may want to check out books such as “Yoga Over 50” or “Yoga for the Young at Heart.” There are also some excellent books on practicing yoga during pregnancy, including Francoise Freedman’s “Yoga for Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond” which gives modifications adapted for each trimester.
4. Explore alternatives. If you are a yoga beginner and stumbled into a vigorous vinyasa practice that left you achy and shaky, you may want to consider a more gentle style of yoga. It is harder to modify postures in a fast-paced class, and the larger the class size, the less chances are that the teacher will be available to give you a hand. For people new to the practice of needing modifications, smaller classes may be your best bet.
5. Keep up. Even if you find that you must modify almost all the postures in your yoga practice, it’s important to keep practicing. Once you learn your basic modifications, invest in some DVDs and begin to develop a daily routine. Rodney Yee’s Complete Yoga for Beginners is a great introduction to basic yoga postures that you can experiment with at home. Kundalini students may want to try building strength with Gurmukh’s “Healthy Body Fearless Spirit,” noticing how over time, modifications are needed less and less.
And finally, always do your best to stay safe and enjoy your practice!