9 Yoga Variations and Modifications for Plus-Size Bodies

Yoga can be a fantastic way to unwind, meditate, stretch, strengthen, and feel great in your body. The only issue is that for plus-size yogis, it can be hard to follow along with your yoga teacher when their body looks nothing like yours. Some poses may be extra challenging or even downright painful, while others may seem nearly impossible just due to the size of your chest or tummy. 

We turned to Andrea DiMaio, the yoga instructor based in Jamestown, NY who leads a weekly Wednesday class called "Yoga For Bigger Bodies," in addition to local body positive hikes, to get her recommended yoga pose variations and modifications that can make yoga easier on a bigger body.

Here are her recommended 8 variations:

 

Child's Pose / Balasana

While most instructors won't give you the option to make room for your chest and belly, Andrea recommends going wide to accommodate for your body. She recommends toes together behind you, and placing your knees out as wide as possible. Either rest your forehead on your mat or, if that's uncomfortable, stack your fists under your forehead and rest upon them. Alternatively, you can also place a block under your forehead for space.

Andrea is a plus size woman, doing yoga in child's pose with her knees placed wide and her toes togetherAndrea is demonstrating child's pose with her knees placed out wide, and her arms and hands stretched out in front of her.

Andrea is a plus-size woman practicing yoga, in child's pose, doing a wide knee variation and using stacked fists to elevate her head.
Andrea has stacked fists placed under her head, offering her body more space in child's pose.

 

Low Crescent Lunge / Anjaneyasana

Andrea has discovered that getting into a low lunge can be a challenge for many, whether you're moving through a sun salutation or just going into the pose, many teachers instruct to square the front leg with hands placed on the mat on each side of the front leg. But that is impossible for many folks with bigger bellies. One variation she offers is to simply bring the floor closer to you, by placing blocks beneath the hands. Alternatively instead of squaring the front leg, shift the leg toward the outer edge of the mat and place your hands on the mat inside of that leg.

Andrea is a plus-size yogi demonstrating how difficult low lunge can be for folks with a larger body. Her hands don't reach the mat.Andrea's hands don't reach the mat in a traditional low lunge pose, a problem for many people with larger tummies.

 

Andrea's a plus-size yogi who is demonstrating how to modify a low lunge with blocks so her hands have a place to rest. By using blocks, Andrea has brought the floor closer to her hands, making room for her body in a low lunge pose.

 

Andrea is a plus-size yogi offering a modification for low lunge by bringing her front foot to the outside of the mat and placing her hands inside her front leg.

In this variation, Andrea suggests bringing your front foot to the outside of the mat and placing your hands inside your front leg to achieve a low lunge.

 

Forward Fold / Uttanasana

Having a larger tummy can make a forward fold extremely uncomfortable, and can even make it harder to touch the floor. One trick is simply using blocks to bring the floor a bit closer to your hands. The other tip if you don't have blocks on hand or just don't like them is to simply "take space and make space," a quote from body positive yogi Amber Karnes is known for saying. So, widen your feet more. Your feet don't need to be close together or even hip width, feel free to go even wider. Then, use your hands to actually move your flesh out of the way. That means take your hands and tuck your belly up and out of the way as you fold forward, which can make space for you to fold toward the ground.

Andrea, a plus-size yogi, is attempting to do a forward fold. But due to her larger tummy, she finds it uncomfortable and hard to reach the groundBecause she isn't using props and hasn't adjusted her tummy, Andrea can't reach the ground with her hands.

 

Andrea, plus-size yogi, is using blocks to bring the ground closer to her during her forward fold.By using two blocks, Andrea has brought the ground closer to her hands for a more comfortable forward fold.
Andrea, plus-size yogi, in a forward fold.After lifting her belly out of the way, Andrea is able to touch the ground in her forward fold.

 

Eagle Pose / Garudasana

Eagle Arms:

If you have a big chest and big arms, it can be really hard to twist them around each other the way your yoga teacher may have pretzeled themselves into. A simple variation is to just bring the backs of the opposite hands together. Another easy variation is to give yourself a big hug, with one arm over the other. If you're almost into the traditional pose but just need a little extra, try holding a strap with both hands.

Andrea, plus-size yogi, is doing a variation of eagle arms with opposite hands back to back.Opposite hands back to back makes for a much more comfortable variation of eagle arms.

 

Andrea, plus-size yogi, is giving herself a big hug which is a great variation of eagle arms.Another eagle arms variation is to just give yourself a big hug. We promise it feels just as good as it looks.

 

Andrea, plus-size yogi, uses a strap to help her with eagle arms.Give traditional eagle arms pose a try with a strap instead if you can't wrap your arms around each other.

 

Eagle Legs:

Your legs may not comfortably twist into what your instructor's version of eagle legs looks like, but have no fear. Larger legs may never wrap completely around the other leg. But hooking one foot behind the other is a great option. You also can cross one leg over the other or even prop your foot up on blocks.

Andrea, plus-size yogi, shows a variation for eagle arms and eagle legs.Unlike traditional eagle legs, try to tuck one foot behind the calf of the other leg instead of in front.
An eagle legs variation, crossing one leg in front of the other.If your leg can't wrap completely around the other, just wrap it around the front. That's enough.
Eagle legs variation for plus sizes: prop your foot on blocks.If balancing is tricky, it's not cheating to prop your foot up on blocks. You can place it on the opposite side of your standing leg and still get the stretch from wrapping around your standing leg.

 

Transitioning from Downward Facing Dog to Forward Fold

When you're going through your Sun Salutation flow, your teacher may cue you to move from downward facing dog by walking your feet to your hands at the front of the mat, pausing in forward fold. But that transition can be uncomfortable or even impossible for larger bodies. Instead, try walking your hands back to your feet with bent knees. You will then be at the back of the mat for your forward fold, but once you come up and everyone brings their hands to heart center, you can walk up to the front of the mat and join in.

Andrea, plus-size yogi, transitions from downward dog to forward fold with bent knees.Instead of walking your feet toward your hands at the top of the mat, walk your hands back to your feet at the back. Don't be afraid to bend your knees.

 

Hug Knees To Chest

When your teacher instructs you to hug your knees to your chest, don't worry about your chest or belly getting in the way. Instead, open your knees wide and hold behind your knees. 

Plus-size yogi Andrea demonstrates a variation for hugging knees to chest.
Instead of hugging knees to her chest, Andrea opens her legs wider and holds behind her knees.

 

Half Lord of the Fishes Seated Twist / Ardha Matsyendrasana

Andrea is almost ready to laugh when she hears an instructor ask her to bend her knee and put it over her straight leg, then twist toward the bent leg because it feels so impossible to achieve. Instead, she recommends bending the knee and keeping it in front of you. Then, move your belly flesh out of the way as you sit up tall and twist toward that knee. Make sure to flex the foot in your straight leg as you do.

Andrea, plus-size yogi, demonstrates a variation for the seated twist yoga pose.If twisting toward your knee that is over your straight leg feels really hard, don't put your bent leg over the straight one. Use a block to help you sit up straighter. And don't forget to flex the foot of your straight leg the way Andrea did.

 

Inversions

Do your boobs ever try to suffocate you when you're in an inversion? Try strapping down the girls with a yoga strap. It may look a bit silly, but Andrea promises it feels so much better. Make sure to have the strap up high in the armpits at the very top of the breast tissue. Check for twists in the strap, because that won't make it comfortable. Andrea found this simple variation to be life-changing.

Andrea, plus-size yogi, has a strap looped around her chest.The life-changing hack for busty women in inversions: a strap around the chest.

 

Crocodile Pose / Makarasana

This relaxing pose should be, well, relaxing. But for those of us that are particularly busty, laying face down can be uncomfortable for our necks and can make us feel like our chest is suffocating us. By setting a folded blanket under the arms, it creates more space allowing you to comfortably relax in this position.

Andrea, plus-size yogi, is in crocodile pose with a blanket under her arms.Lifting your arms up with the help of a supportive blanket can make more room so you can relax in this pose.

 

Have you ever struggled in yoga, or any fitness class, because the instructor gives you a cue that you can't achieve due to your size? Tell us in the comments!

 

 

Yoga instructor Andrea DiMaio

Featuring tips and photos by Andrea DiMaio
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Andrea is a Yoga For All certified teacher and an Accessible Yoga Ambassador. She leads local and international hikes and other outdoor adventures. Her passion is to share yoga, hiking, and the joy of movement with people that don't see themselves represented in these spaces.
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Follow Andrea on Instagram @adventuring_athena, YouTube, and Facebook
Join her private yoga Facebook Group.

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