As your abilities as a yogi develop and progress, you may need to begin modifying poses. Slight alterations on certain asanas will increase the challenge and allow you to further improve your flexibility and strength. Asana modifications can help tailor yoga to what your body needs at any given time.
Here are some simple modifications for advanced poses that will push you that extra step towards a healthy body and spirit! Remember never to modify a pose without instructor guidance and permission in order to avoid injury.
Though it is one of the more difficult poses of yoga, Wheel Pose is actually one of the easiest to modify.
From the pose, simply begin to walk your hands and feet closer to each other, keeping the hips raised as much as possible. Still not feeling challenged? Try moving from Wheel Pose into a standing position.
Begin building into this difficult move by rocking your weight from the hands to the balls of the feet. This will help build the necessary momentum. Once you feel comfortable with the sensation, rock back and forth a few times, then lift up and push your hips forward, rolling up through the spine to come to a standing position.
Wheel Pose is a great pose for increasing upper and lower back flexibility, as well as improving upper body strength. It has the additional benefit of acting like a tonic for the body, refreshing the blood flow and revitalizing the mind.
King Dancer Pose
If you have reached maximum extension in King Dancer pose, try changing the way you hold your foot. Instead of grabbing the foot with the palm facing inward, rotate the arm such that the palm faces outward, keeping the elbow bent. This grip will give you more leverage to pull the leg higher, thus increasing the backbend of the pose.
This grip may be used with one hand (to start) or both, eventually allowing you to pull the foot past the top of the head.
If you have sufficiently open hips and are unchallenged by Pigeon Pose, try this advanced variation to get a deeper stretch:
- From Pigeon Pose, square your shoulders and hips to the front.
- Then, maintaining this centered alignment, reach back with the arm that is on the same side as the back leg and grasp the ankle with the palm facing inward.
- Gently pull and bend the lower leg toward your spine, bending inward and eventually gaining enough flexibility to touch the heel to the lumbar spine. You should feel a deep stretch in the quadriceps and the hips. If you need even more of a stretch, bend backward, reaching the head toward the foot.
Once you have mastered Monkey Pose and are able to lower yourself comfortably down to the floor and take a slight backbend, increase the difficulty by increasing the angle of the asana.
Place a small object, such as a foam block or paperback book, where you plan on putting your front foot. Rest your heel on top of the block and begin lowering into Monkey Pose. This will increase the angle between the legs and allow for a deeper stretch in the hips and the groin.
You can boost the height of the objects used under your foot as you adjust to the added challenge.
Compass Pose is a very difficult pose that can be performed both standing and sitting. If you find yourself able to sustain it comfortably, the modification is simple: once in full Compass Pose, switch hands, so that the arm opposite the extended leg pulls the stretching limb towards the opposite side. This will increase the stretch in both the extended and the supporting leg. (You may find that you have to tilt your head slightly to accommodate the opposite arm.)
Scorpion Pose is possibly the most challenging poses in yoga; as such there aren't many modifications you can use to make it more difficult. However, you can make a few adjustments to increase both your strength and flexibility:
- Slowly work towards extending one leg forward, while leaving the other leg bent. This will increase the back bend.
- If you still need a greater challenge, extend the other leg, such that both legs hang overhead and parallel to the forearms.
- For an extremely advanced modification, once both legs are up and parallel, take one leg an extend it back to move into an overhead split. Make sure to do this modification with each leg so that one does not become more flexible or strong than the other.
Little Thunderbolt Pose
One of the most advanced backbends, Little Thunderbolt requires extreme flexibility in both upper and lower spine. If you have engaged the full pose comfortably, try to begin moving the head toward the knees. Move in small increments and experience the full stretch before moving forward.
Eventually, you will be able to have the head between the knees. Take care to keep the hips pushed forward and the neck straight at all times.
Work Without Fear
These modifications will prevent your practice from reaching a plateau and allow you to continually reap enormous benefits from all yoga asanas. Just remember never to ignore pain and always consult your instructor to ensure you're practicing safely!