How Can Yoga be Adapted to Suit Individual Conditions?

Breeze Academy February 28, 2023
B&W Image of Woman Doing Yoga

Yoga has a reputation for being difficult to master and only for the fit and flexible in society. However, healthcare professionals such as Physiotherapists and Clinical Yoga Teachers can modify yoga to be accessible for all. This includes disabilities, age, chronic medical conditions or simply being less fit and/or mobile than others. 

So, how can yoga be adapted to suit individual conditions? Most yoga poses can be adapted to suit a wide range of abilities, disabilities and medical conditions with small tweaks and the use of aids such as chairs, straps, blankets and blocks. This makes traditional postures more accessible for all whilst delivering the same benefits.

Read on to learn more about adaptive yoga, who it can benefit, and tips for integrating it into your healthcare practice. 

How Can Yoga be Adapted?

Yoga has a reputation for only being suitable for the most agile, flexible and strong members of society. But all you really need to do yoga is a body. Any body. Adaptive yoga, or accessible yoga, allows almost all forms of yoga and various yoga positions to be modified to suit an individual’s ability or disability. In fact, to make yoga truly accessible, multiple variations are taught allowing for yoga poses to be tailored to specific needs.

The key principle of adaptive yoga is that all bodies are different. As such, in all yoga classes, poses should be taught, tailored and modified to suit all bodies - not just the super-fit. “All yoga practices are personal, and every body is different.” - JoAnn Lyons, Senior Adaptive Yoga Teacher.

To modify yoga for all bodies, a variety of techniques and equipment is used. This included blankets, straps, blocks and chairs to make poses open to more people. Modifying yoga also recognises that traditional yoga poses aren’t everything; "Poses are a very important part of the practice, but they're only one piece of the practice. It's not just what you do in a yoga practice, but how you do it that matters." - Carol Krucoff, a certified yoga therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine.

Traditional poses can be modified to be seated, for example. Matthew Sanford, an adaptive yoga expert, explains that even whilst sitting, lifting up through the chest, broadening the shoulders and taking a breath results in the same outcome as what would happen in a standing pose - just modified to be accessible. 

Similarly, the traditional yoga pose standing forward bend with straight legs puts strain on the back. This isn’t suitable for those with back pain or other back conditions. But, a simple modification can be done to achieve the same stretch. Simply having the individual lie on their back and bend one or both knees to the chest achieves the same outcome. For those with more limited ability, straps, towels or blankets can be used to help pull the legs to the chest for a deeper stretch. 

Chairs can be used to provide stability and balance. For example, in Tree Pose, the individual would usually balance on one leg with the other food pressed to the inner thigh. An adaptive yoga pose here would be to sit on the chair and place one foot on the opposite shin, ankle or inner thigh. If necessary, the bent knee can also be rested on a second chair. Alternatively, this pose can be done by laying on the floor. This modification achieves the same results as the traditional pose, but makes it accessible for all. 

Props and techniques don’t need to be fancy or specialist to modify yoga to suit all. They simply need to be functional. It’s more about finding a way to achieve the same result for those that are less able. 

Who is Adapted Yoga for?

Adaptive yoga is a bit of an umbrella term. It includes modified yoga for a wide range of abilities, disabilities and medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy. It can also be used for the elderly and for rehabilitation after injury. In some cases, classes may be available for those that have partial and even total paralysis. 

Benefits of Adaptive Yoga

The benefits of adaptive yoga are largely the same as traditional yoga but with more focus on physical benefits than spiritual benefits. These include:

  • Strength.
  • Flexibility.
  • Mobility and range of motion.
  • Balance.
  • Reduces fatigue.
  • Helps with relaxation.
  • Improves quality of life.
  • General daily function and wellbeing.
  • Fosters a sense of community and support.

Tips for Healthcare Professionals on How to Run an Adaptive Yoga Class

If you’re interested in including adaptive yoga into your practice, the following tips may prove beneficial. But first, we recommend that you complete an accredited clinical yoga teacher training course to learn the basics. 

  1. Spend time with your client to fully understand their conditions, needs, and where they need help with modifications.

  2. Don’t forget to warm up. This may include breathing exercises and stretching to avoid damaging the body during the main part of the session.

  3. Structure the main activities, shapes or poses around the information you gathered in step one. The modifications will lifely centre around:

    1. Forward bends

    2. Backbends

    3. Twists

    4. Lengthening

    5. Balance

  4. Cool down. Like with any activity, it’s important to cool down at the end of the session to avoid muscle issues and to help relax the body. This will likely focus on breathing, mindfulness, relaxation and meditation.

Other things to keep in mind:

  • Use clear and simple language to avoid confusion.
  • Summarise what is happening and what is about to happen before moving into it.
  • Be adaptable.
  • Work in collaboration with the client and, where applicable, their carers - they know their condition better than you.
  • Be consistent throughout multiple sessions.
  • Make use of equipment to make poses suitable for all.

Final Thoughts

The key takeaway from this article is that yoga is for every body. Regardless of age, ability, disability, medical condition or otherwise, yoga poses can be modified to achieve the same benefits as regular yoga poses. 

If you’re interested in offering modified yoga in your healthcare practice, or want to learn more about how you can modify yoga for all, take a look at our fully accredited clinical yoga teacher training courses.


What is Adaptive Yoga?

Adaptive yoga, also known as accessible yoga or inclusive yoga, is the practice of modifying yoga postures to suit individual needs, abilities and medical conditions. Often, equipment such as chairs, straps, blankets and blocks are used to make traditional yoga postures (and their benefits) accessible for all. 

In most cases, the benefits of a traditional yoga pose can be achieved by modifying the pose to be seated, laid on the floor, or by using equipment.  

Don't miss out, stay updated

We'll email you about new courses and discounts