Health Team

How to modify popular yoga poses if you're super inflexible

Posted January 17, 2021 2:16 a.m. EST

— Contrary to popular belief, yoga isn't just for the super flexible. However, trying to complete moves that are out of your comfort zone can be frustrating. There are plenty of people who suffer from this same feeling of discouragement, so you're not alone. That's why it's important to explore the alternatives to difficult poses and remember that there are always ways to modify yoga poses to develop your flexibility.

Flexibility is essential in our everyday lives. Whether it's bending down to grab something we dropped or stretching out our arms to reach another object, we all need a certain level of flexibility. It doesn't always come naturally, though. Flexibility has to do with age, joints, body size and a range of other factors. Some of the main predictors of flexibility are out of our control. Still, there are ways to improve.

Yoga increases flexibility and balance over time, research has shown. I've compiled a list of five yoga poses that can be modified to reach your level of flexibility. Everyone's body is different, so don't feel bad about taking advantage of modifications that help you feel comfortable. These moves will help you start feeling looser and more relaxed. You might even discover a new love for yoga!

For each pose, breathe in and out slowly through your nose.

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Downward-facing dog

This pose will stretch your hamstrings, calves, shoulders and the entire back of your body.

To begin, start with your hands and knees on the mat. Keep your hands on the mat at shoulder width apart. Walk your knees back a few inches behind your hips. Then tuck your toes under and lift your hips up into the downward-facing pose.

Reach through your heels toward the ground, and draw your naval in toward your spine.


If you've got a tight low back or hamstrings, step the feet out wider than your hips and bend your knees.

If you've got tight shoulders, you can turn your hands outward toward the top corners of the mat so that the wrists are no longer parallel to the top of the mat.

Upward-facing dog

This pose stretches your spine and chest.

Begin by lying down with your stomach on the mat. Press your hands to the mat at your chest. Keep your elbows bent close to your body. Press the tops of your feet into the ground.

As you breathe in, press your hands into the mat and press the tops of your feet into the ground to come up into the upward-facing pose. Keep your thighs and feet as wide as your hips. Then straighten your arms and lift your torso and thighs up off the mat. Roll the shoulders back and open the chest.

Hold for a few breaths, and then release.


If you don't have the shoulder flexibility for this, simply come into cobra pose by pressing the hands into the mat but keeping the thighs onto the mat. Lift your head, neck and chest off of the ground slightly while pressing firmly into the ground with your thighs and feet. Keep the thighs and feet open just as wide as your hips.

If your low back is too tight, open the legs as wide as the mat and perform cobra.

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Halfway lift

If your spine and hamstrings are feeling stiff, this pose can help you loosen up.

Start with a standing forward bend (reaching toward your toes). As you inhale, press your fingertips into the ground and begin to move your chest away from your body and straighten your arms. Your back should be as straight as possible, forming as close to a 90-degree angle with your legs as possible.

Press the feet into the ground as wide as the hips, and keep the legs straight by engaging your quadriceps.


If your upper back doesn't have the flexibility to lift up very high, move your fingertips up to your shins and press them into your shins.

If your low back and hamstrings are lacking flexibility, open the feet a little bit wider than the hips, bend the knees and press the fingertips onto the shins as you look up.

Triangle pose

Triangle engages the hips, groins and hamstrings, offering a heavy stretch.

Begin by standing on your mat. Move your feet so that they are about 4 or 5 feet apart with your heels aligned. Point your right foot so that it is perpendicular to your left. With your arms in a T shape, shift your hips to the left as you reach your right arm toward the front.

Then lower the right fingertips to the ground and reach the left arm up toward the ceiling. Turn your head to look up at your left fingertips, or if it's more comfortable, turn your head in the opposite direction and look down.

Engage both quads and your core to hold yourself in this position for a few breaths.


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).

READ MORE: You can do this total-body workout anywhere -- no equipment needed

Child's pose

This pose stretches the back of the body and the hips.

Begin by kneeling on the floor with your calves underneath your butt. Keep your inner thighs pressing toward each other. Then walk your hands forward and reach your glutes back over your heels.

Take a few deep breaths here.


If your hips are tight, open the knees as wide as the mat and keep the feet touching behind you. Then lean forward with your arms and reach your glutes back toward your heels. It's OK if your butt is up in the air.

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.

If you want to work on your flexibility, start by performing these modified moves. Yoga is meant to help you improve, so don't worry if you struggle at first. Keep it low-key. You may find yourself becoming looser and wanting even more of a stretch as time goes on.

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