Thursday, October 23, 2014

Proper Form and Adaptations of Child’s Pose—Response to a Student Question

I look forward to answering your questions in this blog. Please feel free to leave a comment or e-mail your questions to

A Whole Life Yoga teacher training graduate writes: When I teach child’s pose, I have noticed that some of my students keep their back straight and hips hiked up in the air, almost downward dog-like. I’m not sure if this is a flexibility issue, or if they just don’t understand my instructions. Do you see this in your students, and if so, how do you address it?

I do see that pattern occasionally, and it can have several causes. Most yoga teachers think that child’s pose is a comfortable, forward-bended resting position—and it usually is. For some students, however, child’s pose isn’t restful at all; it’s confusing, uncomfortable, and frustrating.

The photo below shows a student doing child’s pose correctly. Note that her hips rest toward her heels, and her elbows and forehead relax comfortably toward the floor.

Yoga Pose -- Child's Pose

Sometimes, however, students touch their heads to the floor while pointing their hips to the sky. This places the spine in a subtle backbend, and usually isn’t the slightest bit comfortable.

Yoga Pose -- Adapted Child's Pose

A student usually does this for one of three reasons:
  1. Her knees are unable to acutely bend or are uncomfortable when deeply bent.
  2. She can’t breathe comfortably when her chest, belly, or breasts are pressed against her thighs.
  3. She doesn't understand how to do the pose.
The solution, of course, depends on the cause. Two adaptations are useful for students with knee issues:

Place a bolster or folded blanket on top of the student’s calves. This allows her to rest with her knees at a less acute angle

Yoga Pose -- Adapted Child's Pose

Place a bolster under the student’s chest and belly. This has the effect of raising the floor, so her knees don’t have to bend as much when she lowers her body.

Yoga Pose -- Adapted Child's Pose

If, on the other hand, the student has difficulty breathing in child’s pose, coach her to widen her knees to make more room for the breath.

Yoga Pose -- Adapted Child's Pose

You can also have the student place a bolster, forearms or fists underneath her forehead to maintain space for the breath.

Yoga Pose -- Adapted Child's Pose

If the student doesn’t understand how to do the pose, then some individualized coaching is in order. Ask her if she is choosing to modify child’s pose for comfort. If the answer is no, she’s likely confused. Work with her to better understand the form and intention of the pose. If the answer is yes, find out specifically why she’s uncomfortable and work with her to adapt the post to get both function and ease.

Thanks for asking!


Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.


Linda O. Johnston said...

Sounds as if Yoga positions can be tailored to fit the person and situation, Tracy--clearly a good thing.

Tracy Weber said...

That is totally what viniyoga is about--adapting to the person in front of us!

Alyssa Maxwell said...

Thanks, Tracy! It's so helpful to know yoga positions can be modified to be more comfortable. I've also modified the way I do uttanasana thanks to a recommendation from you so I don't strain my lower back.

Tracy Weber said...

I'm so glad, Alyssa! I love helping people learn how to do yoga safely and effectively!