One of the most beautiful aspects of our yoga practice is that we can learn to modify the poses, or asanas, to suit our body’s current state. Yoga should not be regarded as a physical performance of the postures, but instead as a way to bring about balance.
Our bodies are different and always changing based on our environment, experiences, moods, etc. And this can — and will — affect our practice. This is why each time we step onto the mat, we attempt to do so with an open mind, a spirit of acceptance, and the willingness to explore our practice in ways that best support the body and mind at that moment in time.
While there are many asana modifications and ways to use props to support our practice, one of the most effective approaches is to try reclining variations of common poses. Although these variations may require less effort than the traditional approach to posture, the benefits are almost completely the same so the poses remain very effective — perhaps even more so.
While not all asanas can be achieved lying down, practicing the same shape in a different — and reclined — fashion provides support on those days when you need a less taxing experience. It ensures that the spine and pelvis remain in a neutral position, which can be challenging while standing or seated.
It also helps introduce us to proper alignment of the body so we are able to practice the asana correctly and create a muscle memory that we take back to the traditional postures.
The reclining variations also help us develop more flexibility when we’re not introducing excess tension in the body. They keep us true to the alignment of the pose and afford us the space to concentrate on our breathing and calm the mind rather than exert ourselves, which further helps facilitate balance and ease.
Same shape, different pose: Reclining versions of common yoga poses
Yoga is a practice for everybody. Here are some ways to let your practice meet you where you’re at the moment.
Supta Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (Reclining One-Legged Pigeon Pose)
Try: Lie down on your back. Bend your knees and place your feet hip distance apart on the mat. Bring your right ankle to your left thigh just above your knee. Interlace your hands behind the back of your left thigh and pull that thigh toward your chest while drawing your right knee away from your body.
Keep your low back on the mat to ensure the stretch remains in the right glutes and hamstrings. Switch sides.
Try: Lie down on your back. Extend your left leg straight on the mat and raise your right leg toward the ceiling. Catch your right big toe with your first two fingers and thumb (or use a strap around the arch of your foot to lengthen your reach).
Push through your right heel. If it’s comfortable, bring your right leg slowly toward your chest. If the right knee does not extend comfortably, there is an option to use a strap around the foot and hold onto it with both hands. This can offer support if you feel the tension in the hamstrings. Proceed to the next pose before switching sides.
Supta Hasta Pandangustasana II (Reclining Hand-to-Big Toe Pose II)
Instead of: Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana II (Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose II)
Try: From Supta Hasta Padangusthasana, place your left hand on your left hip to ensure it stays grounded as you open your right leg to the right and lower it toward the floor. (Using the strap here for support is very helpful especially when there is stiffness experienced in the inner thighs).
It’s important to note that the main goal is not to reach the floor with that right foot, but to keep the left hip down and to feel the opening in the inner thighs. Switch sides and repeat Hand-to-Foot Reclining Pose I and II on the other side before moving to the next pose.
Instead of: Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle)
Try: From lying on your back, bend your knees and bring the bottoms of your feet together. Allow your knees to release toward the mat. For a more supportive variation, place blocks, pillows, or folded blankets or towels under each knee.
Supta Gomukhasana (Reclining Cow Face Pose)
Instead of: Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)
Try: Lie on your back, bring your knees to your chest, and cross your right thigh on top of your left thigh. Bring your feet out toward the sides, reach for your feet with your hands, and bring your heels toward your buttocks.
Supta Matsyendrasana (Reclining Spinal Twist)
Try: Lie on your back with your arms straight out from the shoulders. Draw your knees into your chest and shift your right hip slightly to the left, and bring both knees to the right side of the mat with your left stacked on your right. Gaze toward the left side of the mat, opposite your knees. Relax both shoulders. Switch sides.
Supta Upavistha Konasana (Reclining Wide-Legged Forward Bend)
Try: This can be done with or without a wall. Lie on your back, lift your legs, and open them as wide as you can. Place your hands to your inner thighs, adding ever so slight pressure, or keep your arms alongside your body.
If you’re using the wall, make sure both buttocks are against the wall and slide your legs open with the back of the legs on the wall.
Supta Paschimottanasana (Reclining Forward Bend)
Instead of: Seated Forward Bend
Try: Lie on your back and bring your legs above your hips, keeping them straight. Gently bring your thighs toward your chest. You can either keep your lower back down or if you want to intensify the stretch, raise your sacrum off the mat to create more space for your legs to come even further toward your chest.