Do you get embarrassed when you’re in a yoga class and you can’t keep up? Do you turn off your Pilates DVD when it gets too hard? Or, maybe you’re hesitant to give yoga or Pilates a try because they seem too tough.

I have good news for you: there are always ways to modify yoga and Pilates to suite your needs.

When I was in one my first yoga classes, many years ago, the teacher said something that really stuck with me:

“We all have to do different things with our bodies in these poses to get the same workout…to feel the same intensity…flexibility-wise and strength-wise.”

What a good point! On that note…

Tip #1: Remind yourself: this is my practice.

It doesn’t matter what an instructor is telling you or what the person next to you in a class is doing, always give yourself permission to listen to your body. It’s important to realize that that’s what yoga and Pilates are all about…finding a practice that works for you.

What’s going to work for you will change day-to-day, depending on a ton of different factors (sleep, nutrition, stress, etc.). So, something that seemed easy one day, might seem challenging the next or vice versa. That’s completely normal.

Take breaks as often as you need to (even if you’re not prompted to by an instructor). Seems obvious, right? But, most of us don’t think we have permission to take a break, especially if we’re in the middle of a class with a bunch of otherpeople.

Well, this is me giving you permission! You can find Child’s Pose, a comfortable seated position, or really any pose you’d like, at any point.

Tip #2: Experiment with different instructors and different styles.

There are so many different styles of both yoga and Pilates. For example, there’s everything from restorative yoga to power vinyasa yoga.

Restorative Yoga:

  • Extremely relaxing and gentle
  • Poses are held for up to 10 minutes (or more)
  • Blocks, bolsters, pillows, and blankets are utilized to support your body
  • Not much focus on increasing endurance, strength, or cardiovascular health
  • Focused more on breath, relaxation, and flexibility
  • You won’t sweat

Power Vinyasa Yoga:

  • You’ll probably sweat…maybe a lot
  • You may be sore the next day
  • Challenging for most people
  • “Vinyasa” means “flow”…so, you flow from one pose to the next
  • A lot of focus on increasing endurance, strength, and cardiovascular health

Those are two very different ways to spend an hour on a mat. Both are known and described as “yoga”, though.

Additionally, every instructor as his/her own way of teaching.

This is why I include all different types and intensity levels of yoga & Pilates within my Yoga & Pilates Online Membership. It’s also why I offer videos from a variety of different guest teachers.

When you give yourself time and permission to experiment with styles and instructors, you’ll find a practice you love! I promise.

Tip #3: Bring your arms out to a “T”.

Whether you’re in a single leg balance posture, a warrior pose (I, II, or III), or a lunge, bringing your arms out, away from your midline, will help you balance and feel more stable.

You can also practice near a chair or a wall. That way, when your arms are out at a “T”, you have something secure to utilize for a little extra support.

Tip #4: Straighten your front leg for a sec.

This tip is specifically for poses like Warrior I, Warrior II (pictured below), Low Lunge, and Crescent Lunge. What all these poses have in common is, your front knee is bent over your front ankle and your back leg is straight.

Warrior Pose

To take a quick break, while in any of these poses, just straighten your front leg for a little bit and then re-lunge, when you’re ready.

(This tip can be adapted for Chair Pose (pictured below) too! Straighten both legs when you need to take a break. Squat again, when you’re ready to reengage.)

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Tip #5: Bring your feet closer together.

Again, this tip specifically applies to poses such as Warrior I, Warrior II, Low Lunge (pictured below), and Crescent Lunge. What all these poses have in common is, the further apart your feet are, length-wise, the deeper your lunge becomes. And, therefore, the more challenging the pose (in regards to strength and flexibility).

So, to modify, bring your back foot closer to your front foot.

Tip #6: Make your base wider.

Whatever is in contact with the floor (arms, hands, or feet) = your base. Whether you’re doing a standing yoga pose, you’re on a stability ball, or you’re on your mat doing Pilates ab work, a wider base always = more stability and, therefore, less challenge.

Tip #7: Drop to your knees.

This tip applies to poses such as lunges (pictured below), planks, and push-ups. When you drop to your knees, it makes poses like these much easier!

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Tip #8: Make your range of motion smaller.

Whenever you’re doing a yoga or Pilates move, keep in mind that the bigger your movement, the more challenging it is for your muscles to control. And, the smaller your movement the easier it is to control.

Tip #9: Slow your movement down.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. However, for the most part, the more you increase the speed of your movement, the more challenging it becomes. When you slow your movement down, exercises typically become less challenging.

Tip #10: Don’t move so many limbs at once.

Keep this tip in mind specifically for Pilates ab work. The more limbs you get involved, the more challenging it becomes to stabilize your core.

Tip #11: Pay attention to the angle of your legs.

Again, this tip applies specifically to Pilates ab work. The closer your legs are to a 90 degree angle, the easier it will be to stabilize your core. The closer they are to a 45 degree angle (or, potentially, to the floor), the more challenging the exercise becomes.

Tip #12: Bend your knees a little bit.

In a yoga or Pilates practice, when you’re prompted to lengthen/straighten your leg(s), know that it’s totally okay to have a large or slight knee-bend.

Tip #13: Drop your head.

This applies specifically to Pilates ab work. If you’re thinking more about your neck than your core, rest your neck by dropping your head to the mat.

Tip #14: Keep things simple.

If you get confused or overwhelmed, stop trying to focus on everything at once. It’s okay to block out your instructor’s cues for a bit. Also, if you’re in a group class, don’t pay any attention to what your neighbor is doing. Instead, keep it simple by focusing on one thing and one thing only.

What would be the best thing to focus on? Here are my top four suggestions:

  • Breathing – Ask yourself: Am I inhaling and exhaling? Is my breath flowing? Am I pairing my movement with my breath?
  • Alignment – Ask yourself: Are my shoulders away from my ears? Am I holding myself with strong posture?
  • Stabilization – Ask yourself: Am I able to maintain my proper alignment? Am I keeping the parts of my body, that I want to stabilize, still, as the other parts are moving?
  • Control – Remind yourself: When I feel in control of my movement (smooth, graceful flow), I’m using muscle to maintain that control. When I’m not in control, momentum takes over. Being in control means my movement is safer and more effective.