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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.
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.
A student usually does this for one of three reasons:
- Her knees are unable to acutely bend or are uncomfortable when deeply bent.
- She can’t breathe comfortably when her chest, belly, or breasts are pressed against her thighs.
- 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
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.
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.
You can also have the student place a bolster, forearms or fists underneath her forehead to maintain space for the breath.
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!
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This column was really helpful! It is good to understand how to adapt the pose depending upon the problem the student is having.
I have been doing yoga off and on for a few years now – and I slightly detest the child’s pose because I find it not at all comfortable. The reason – which is not listed in this article – is that my back may not be flexible enough. As a long-time runner, I’ve developed an incredibly tight back and ironically enough, unable to stretch it out (even though this pose is “really good” for lower back pain). if I start with my forehead down to the floor, I’m unable to lower my butt to my heels – I have a good number of inches (perhaps even a foot or so) of separation. If I start out with my butt on my heels and bending forward, it’s even worse as I can only lean in by a slight degree before they’re already off.
How does one overcome that? I’m pretty sure if a teacher were to push by backside down into my heels, the stretch would feel incredible. Instead, I just feel scrunched up and tight. Any and all advice would be much appreciated.
Hi Lisa. Child’s pose isn’t the best low back stretch for everyone, but you might be able to adapt it to work better for you. Where the hips and forward rest is not important. Have you tried resting your forehead on a bolster, your forearms, nr even putting your elbows on the floor and resting it in the palms of your hands? Don’t focus on gluing your body parts to the floor or your heels. Instead, focus on finding a stretch!
Great info for teachers, thank you!
This really is good information for teachers! I am a new teacher, and I have been struggling with this issue in my beginners classes, as several of my students tend to perform child’s pose similar to the “incorrect” photo above. I have been hesitant to over-correct because I don’t want to discourage beginning students, and yet at the same time, I don’t want them to be uncomfortable! I will definitely try some of the ideas that you suggested.
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The reason why is because these people have arthritis in their hips and will never be able to perform the full expression of the pose. I know because this is what happened to me. There is nothing that can be done and performing Asanas can do more harm. I am also a 200 RYT. Pranayama and cardio as well as lifting weights is more helpful to people with arthritic hips