When you’re in the zone in a yoga class, you’re totally focused on tuning into the instructor’s directions and moving from one pose to the next as fluidly as possible. But often, yoga teachers may not include the modifications that fit your particular needs — whether you have super tight hips, limited range of motion, or if you live in a bigger body. Someone with a bigger stomach, for example, might find their middle gets in the way when trying to do a forward fold, and folks with large chests might find it uncomfortable or inaccessible to cross their arms in eagle pose.
However, savvy modifications and a few helpful props can make common poses accessible to yogis of all sizes and body shapes, says Maria Odugba, NASM-certified personal trainer, corrective exercise specialist, and stretching and flexibility specialist. “There’s always a way to do something when it comes to yoga,” she says. TL;DR: You belong on your yoga mat, just as you are — and there are plenty of ways to make the practice fit your needs.
Here, learn more about modifying yoga poses for bigger bodies, plus the best yoga poses for bigger bodies, as demonstrated by Odugba.
Benefits of Modifying Yoga Poses
While you might feel self-doubt creep in when modifying your yoga poses (especially if you’re in an IRL class and you’re the only one taking modifications), adapting your yoga practice to your unique needs helps you get the most out of your time on the mat. Adjusting certain postures or asanas (aka poses) allows you to accommodate any injuries, muscular imbalances, or tightness. For example, if you’re dealing with a strained calf, modifying your downward dog by bending your knees can lower the intensity of the pose and make it more accessible.
Similarly, modifying your yoga poses also lets you honor how your body is feeling that day. With yoga modifications to level up, you can add some heat to your practice and build muscular strength. Or, if you start a fast-paced vinyasa class and quickly find that you’re not feeling up to the challenge, you can take your asanas down a notch to continue moving and flowing without overdoing it.
For people with bigger bodies specifically, knowing how to modify yoga poses may help you feel more confident and comfortable with a regular yoga practice. Instructors may not know how to cue modifications for bigger yogis or understand the unique needs of having a larger stomach, chest, or butt. By understanding the options available to you, you can feel empowered to take control of your yoga practice — even if that means going slightly off-script from what the instructor is doing. And that feeling of autonomy and ownership is key in making yoga a regular part of your routine if that’s something you’re working toward.
Best Tips for Modifying Yoga Poses for Bigger Bodies
First, know this: While these modifications are suggested for people with bigger bodies, they’re available to yogis of all sizes who want to adjust their asanas a bit for comfort, accessibility, or variety. In addition, no two bodies are the same; someone with bigger breasts will benefit from different modifications than a person with a curvier butt. Your practice is totally your own, and you deserve a yoga routine that feels good to you.
People in bigger bodies might find common yoga props particularly helpful when it comes to adjusting poses, says Odugba. In particular, she recommends using blocks, a strap, and a pillow or bolster. “Blocks allow you to bring the floor to you, versus you having to reach to the floor,” she explains. “The mobility and flexibility aren’t always there, so blocks make you more comfortable without feeling any strain.” Similarly, a strap can be useful if a large chest or belly prevents you from achieving a particular stretch, and pillows help alleviate pressure on your knees and butt.
Also, be aware of your form and posture as you modify. “For example, someone with bigger boobs may be more prone to hunching over,” advises Odugba. In those instances, you should remember to peel your shoulder blades back and expand your chest. You might also benefit from physically repositioning your belly or adjusting your breasts to create more space, so don’t be afraid to make these adjustments.
Finally, understand that even if you’re adjusting the asana, you’ll still get the core benefits of the pose. “Even if you’re changing your stance and your placement of [body parts], you’ll generally get the same benefit,” says Odugba. “[The pose] may not look the same or the stretch may not be as deep, but you’ll still get the benefit.”
The 6 Best Yoga Poses for Bigger Bodies
As you practice these asanas, focus on taking deep, intentional breaths as you relax into each posture. You’ll need two yoga blocks and one yoga strap (a pillow or bolster is optional).
How to add the best yoga poses for bigger bodies to your workouts: The poses below are all common yoga poses that make appearances in a variety of yoga practices. Use these modifications throughout your practice as needed.
Ready to make your yoga practice your own? Here, Odugba demonstrates the best yoga poses for bigger bodies.
Cat-Cow with Hands on Blocks
Why it works: Placing blocks under your hands allows you to raise the floor up a few inches. “That way, you can focus on the rounding of the back rather than straining your neck to get comfortable,” says Odugba. Focus on your upper back as you’re doing this stretch, opening up your lats and chest with the extra height of the yoga blocks.
A. Start in a table-top position with wrists under shoulders and knees under hips, hands placed flat on top of the yoga blocks.
B. On an inhale, drop belly button toward the floor, arching back and extending head and tailbone toward the ceiling.
C. On an exhale, press into the floor with hands and knees and gently round spine up to the ceiling, dropping head and tailbone toward the floor.
Downward Dog with Hands on Chair
Why it works: The chair gives you two level options for raising your hands: placing your hands on the seat of the chair (as shown) or placing your hands on the back of the chair. You could also place your hands on blocks on the floor. “The big thing for me is that this modification helps reduce pressure on your wrists,” says Odugba. “It’s not always comfortable putting all your body weight in your wrists, so using a chair alleviates a lot of wrist pain that anyone can face.”
A. Start in a standing position with feet hip-width apart and a chair around 3 feet in front of you with the seat closest to you.
B. Hinge forward at the hips and place hands on the seat of the chair, arms long, biceps framing ears, and knees under hips. Spread fingers wide, engage core, and straighten legs as much as is comfortable.
C. Hold this position, keeping shoulders drawn away from ears and back flat.
Low Lunge with Blocks
Why it works: This simple low lunge modification works three ways. “If you can’t place your hands on the floor [during a low lunge], there’s lots of strain on your back knee, and the heavier you are, the harder that can be,” says Odugba. Plus, many people with bigger bodies have knee issues, so having blocks as a base can help reduce pain. And finally, having a bigger stomach or chest can get in the way of your knee during a low lunge — so blocks help you lift up and create space.
A. Start in a tall kneeling position on both knees with two yoga blocks in front of you near the outer edge of the mat. Step right foot forward in between the yoga blocks and keep left leg back, left knee pressing into the mat.
B. Exhale, shift forward, and bend deeper into right knee, feeling a stretch in left hip flexor. Place each hand on one yoga block at any height, adjusting so that shoulders are stacked directly over wrists.
Pigeon with Supported Hip
Why it works: Pigeon can be a notoriously tricky pose for anyone, and people with bigger bodies may have difficulty with their bellies getting in the way of their chest as they lean forward in the posture. “Usually my hips are super tight, and using a block alleviates the sharp stretch that pigeon can cause,” says Odugba. “Using a prop also helps with knee pain and relieves pressure on ankles.”
A. Start in a table-top position on the floor with hands directly under shoulders and knees under hips. Walk hands a few inches forward and spread fingers wide, pressing palms into mat.
B. Curl toes under and slowly lift hips toward ceiling, bringing body into an inverted “V” shape, pressing shoulders away from ears. Feet should be hip-width apart, knees slightly bent.
C. Tuck left leg down to the ground directly behind hands, simultaneously dropping right knee to the floor. Place left knee behind left wrist and left toes behind right wrist.
D. Lower butt to the floor, keeping right leg fully extended behind body and resting top of right foot on the ground. Lift hands off the floor so only fingertips touch the ground, then place a yoga block (the wide face of the block resting on the floor) under left hip for support. Right hand, left toes, and right leg should be aligned.
E. Lift left hand off the floor and rest palm on left thigh. Hold this position, gazing forward and keeping spine lengthened and pelvis centered.
Hamstring Stretch with Strap
Why it works: This hamstring stretch is often an issue for people with bigger bodies, since having a belly can make it difficult to grasp your leg as this position requires. Instead, use a strap around the sole of your foot, suggests Odugba. “Putting your foot in the strap and pulling back makes this pose much more accessible,” she explains. You can also swap a straight leg for a bent knee, which “lets your body mold around your leg,” she says.
A. Lie flat on back with legs extended. Place strap or towel around the arch of the left foot.
B. Slowly raise left foot up toward the ceiling keeping the knee straight while right leg and hip maintain connected to the floor. Keep the upper body relaxed with upper arms connected to the floor and elbows bent.
C. Alternatively, wrap the strap around each hand a few more times for a shorter strap. Pull left knee in toward chest, raising neck and shoulders off the ground if comfortable.
Child’s Pose with Block
Why it works: Using the block under your forehead instead of placing your forehead on the floor takes the strain out of your neck, says Odugba. Plus, “when your arms are straight in yoga poses, you may feel a tightness in your lats and back due to body weight.” Elevating your forehead relieves tension in your neck and upper back. For even more restoration, add more pillows or bolsters until your head rests comfortably at the same height as your hips; this adjustment is especially helpful for those with limited shoulder or knee flexibility.
A. Start in a table-top position with hands directly under shoulders, knees under hips.
B. Keeping palms on the floor and arms extended, sink butt back to heels and bring forehead to rest on a yoga block.
C. Lower chest as close to knees as is comfortable, keeping butt back and down so hips don’t lift into the air.