Child’s pose (balasana) is a posture in yoga that is often mentioned as a “resting pose” but for those of us in larger bodies, it can be anything but restful. Without enhancements or modifications to the pose, you can end up short of breath, with too much pressure in the face, or even a serious strain or injury to the neck.
I got a question on the Body Positive Yoga Facebook page a few days ago about child’s pose, so I decided to make a quick video to address it. Here was the question:
I have a question regarding an exercise that has been hard for me. It is balasana. Issue one: My butt will not touch my feet when I sit on my knees. Two problems: If I have hands backwards (which you should), or have hands beside my head, I get a strain on the neck that does not feel right. tried to put a blanket or a yoga block under my head but neck strain remains.
We are going to cover all those points, but first I want to address one thing in this question which is the part that says, “If I have hands backwards (which you should).”
No doubt at some point, a yoga teacher told this person that she should have her hands at her sides in child’s pose. There are plenty of hot debates in the wider yoga community about when we’re doing “real yoga” or what the ancient “real yoga postures” really are, or even if you use props, is it still the “full expression of the pose”. I think all that is a bunch of bull crap. Yoga is for all bodies, not just healthy, bendy, slim bodies that can easily find “the full expression of the pose.” So I think when we get into semantics around what a real Warrior 3 pose looks like, or where our hands should be in a pose, we are stepping onto a slippery slope.
Are the hands traditionally at the sides in the classically described form of balasana? Yes.
Should your hands be at your side when you practice balasana? Well, that depends. Can you rest the full weight of your torso onto the mat (usually this happens when your hips can easily touch your heels)? If not, then your weight is coming forward and guess where it’s going to land? Your neck. We never want to rest the full body weight into the neck, especially in a weird position like child’s pose! So should your hands be at your side in balasana? Only if you can find safe alignment, which for many of us means using props to enhance the pose. I show you how to do that in the video below.
A note on the word “should”
I try my hardest to keep “should” out of my yoga classes (like telling students, “this stretch should feel really good” or “your head should touch the mat”) because every body is different. I care more about safe alignment and mindful movement to capture the benefits of yoga asana rather than what a pose looks like. It will look different for all of us, and you have permission to take YOUR child’s pose in class, no matter what the teacher says it “should” look like.
Modifications for child’s pose (balasana)
Now, onto the video! Here are some modifications for child’s pose (balasana) for those of us in larger bodies or folks that have trouble resting weight on their knees.
Hi Amber! Thank you so much for sharing this! I often have some more curvy yogis in my classes and I can’t wait to give them these options! I’ve also shared it on my fb page. 🙂 Much appreciated!
Hi Amber, great post! I am a big/curvy/whatever yoga-teacher myself, too.
Watching your video, I was wondering if it might help to put 2 more blocks under your hands (while you are on the bolster and have your hands behind you). That way, your arms, too can rest and you don’t have to keep them up.
That is a fantastic idea! I love it.
Hi Amber –
As you know, we have just recently begun Body Beautiful, Yoga Plus at World Peace Yoga in Cincinnati. I love everything you do. This video is great. Thank you for the “tower” approach to balasana. The only thing I have tried in addition to what you offered is closing the space between my butt and my heels. I have knees issues related to past injuries and I’ve observed that rolling up a blanket and placing it in the crease of my knees gives me just enough support that I can relax back without feeling pinching in the joint. Of course, we don’t often have the luxury of enough time to prop in vinyasa, but certainly in yin/restorative. This only works with a blanket. A bolster is too bulky and will slide back when you go to sit. Just an idea for anyone out there with knee pain.
So glad we are all talking about this.
Great ideas, Jenna! Thank you so much!
Hi, Amber. I wanted to let you know that I have always done balasana with my arms forward. My introduction to it was Patricia Walden’s “Yoga for Beginners” video, in which the asana is shown with arms extended forward like yours in the photo above. It was always done that way in the Iyengar classes that I attended. When I tried to do it with arms back, the pressure on my neck is intense, causing the pinched nerve to flare up. Not a good thing. I believe in modifying poses so that they benefit rather than harm me.
Thank you for this!!
Hey baby, don’t should on yourself!
When I first started yoga, this pose was hell on my ankles/tops of the feet. Luckily I had a great instructor who rolled up two face cloths and placed one under each ankle, creating enough of a ‘break’ so it didn’t hurt. You can also kneel on a blanket with the edge rolled up under your ankles. This trick helped me into my first Reclined Virasana, too!
I am so glad to see this! Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ve never been able to do this pose as described in my classes and thought I was doing something wrong. I will definitely put some of these modifications to good use!
Great post! Thanks for sharing. I’m currently in YTT and the trickiest part for me is not being able to rememberr or knowing how to make it comfortable and accessible to everyone. This is a great one post to save in my toolbag.
Thanks for sharing these modifications. I often teach in class spaces where props aren’t available. For child’s pose, I instruct students whose foreheads don’t reach the mat or find extended arms uncomfortable to stack their fists and rest their forehead on them.
I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you!! You’re hard work and wonderful website is what finally got me off my butt! You proved to me that all my excuses for not doing yoga, were just that…EXCUSES. I took my first class this past Monday and cannot wait to go back next week!!
You are amazing and you literally changed my life.
A million times, thank you!!
YOUR…not you’re. Ugh. Too early, not enough coffee. LOL
I enjoyed this video. I’m looking a video that could help me to be more flexible, something short that I can possibly do in the morning ,or before bed. I’ve been to a couple sessions,they always seem to be geared for other who already able to perform the position. Please help
I am in tears. I have done yoga for years in class when I can afford it and at home when I can’t. I like going to class, but it can be so difficult to face the wonderful skinny bodies. I love, love, love that I have found this website and can get some help with how to make yoga work for my body. So sad to me that my teachers are basically clueless and mostly ignore me in class. They don’t know how to help me! I see other heavy women come and go. It is hard to stay in a place where you don’t feel welcomed and included. Thank you for what you are doing.
This website is amazing! I am a new Yoga teacher and I started a Beginners Series at my church, so not everyone is a healthy, fit, skinny-mini like in a studio. I have a pregnant lady, women over 60, arthritis, back issues, neck issues, knee issues, 10-year old inflexible boys (one of them mine 🙂 and extra curvy ladies. Your website has helped me not be a clueless teacher that the last person commented about. I’m doing this to help people and I can’t do that if I only know how to help my body type. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge!!
I have been teaching for years and your video here opened so many doors! You are an inspiration. I have so many more tools now to help in childs pose.
This is great. I’ve been thinking for years that I’m just broken somehow – I have HUGE calf muscles and I’m also curvy. Lucky I didn’t hurt my neck trying so hard! Thank you!! Subscribing.
Thank you – i wanted to have more options for all body types in my restorative and flow classes, please keep them coming …
Loved this thank you very much love your positive upbeat attitude this will help me my students who are just beginning!
OMG. I love you for doing this! So now I know I can do yoga. Just for my body, not my instructor’s. Thank you!!!
I love that I can see how this should look with my curvier body- it always frustrated me and I had no idea if I was doing it right
Thanks SO MUCH for these tips. I have not been able to kneel comfortably since I was a child and a lot thinner than I am now. Flipping child’s pose on your back is brilliant! I will definitely do it that way from now on. What a relief!
Thank you for these tips! Much appreciated! Namaste.
great post! So glad i found your site!
Thanks for this. Recently started sharing yoga with a group of retirees and several will find this extremely helpful
Thank you! Been puzzling about this too
Thank you so much! I am slowly learning what yoga is and should be (as opposed to what I had been told in classes less flexible – no pun intended), and I’m learning modifications. I have a round body, belly and torn rotator cuffs so this is so helpful not just for child’s pose but for me to have a place to come when I can’t do downward dog. Now I am actually looking forward to putting this into practice in my next class!
I just found this today after hurting my shoulders badly during balasana this morning. My butt lands about a half inch above my heels in this pose. Having been told by several instructors that my hips should touch my feet I cheat a little by stretching my arms forward and pushing my hips back onto my feet (yes, after six years of daily practice I should know better but sometimes my perfectionism and OCD get the better of me). It’s fine for a few breaths but this morning we held the pose longer. When I pushed up to tabletop my shoulders and base of my neck were screaming and I couldn’t continue because every motion was painful. After a couple of Advil the pain is gone and my full range of motion has returned except I still can’t tuck my chin to my chest without a little residual pain. Long story short, thank you for this post and your video — and for reminding me that what I “should” be doing isn’t necessarily what my body is capable of doing, at least not without injury.
Thank you for the great suggestions! I have students who have a hard time getting their hips to rest on the heals – these are wonderful tips much more elegant than placing a bolster under your butt!
Thank you so much! Was really struggling with this pose, being a big woman, so thought I’d google it and this page came up! So helpful!
Thank you! I am a curvy beginner with knee challenges. You really helped me not give up today!
Thank you for creating and sharing this video. There are some great options here that I will definitely suggest to my students.
Great job! I am a Kundalini yoga teacher with lots of amazing students who need a variety of modifications and I LOVE LOVE LOVE how you present many options for different people/different bodies. I am going to use this in class TONIGHT!!!!
I’ve just discovered you as I was looking for a modification for child’s pose for a couple of my students (i’m a teacher). I just watched you yoga international video and I think your message is brilliant. Thanks for the inspiration x
I struggle with Child’s Pose, always have.
But not for the reasons mentioned.
I can sit comfortably on my knees with my butt on my heels. I have struggled more with stretching backwards into a reclining hero pose, but even when I was practicing regularly and this was possible, I struggle with Child’s Pose.
Any idea why I’d feel tension in my hips and shoulder blades? Or what I might do to find easy?
Hi Amber! I am a Yoga for All grad and just stumbled on this today. I’m going to start offering a series on my YouTube channel called V.I.P. Yoga – Variations for Individualized Practice. Each short video will feature one pose, lots of modifications, and I think I’m going to start with child’s, so I appreciated the reminders you included here! I also love the bloopers at the end (my videos are both filming and staring me, not nearly as professional as these).
Thanks for the tips on variations for child’s pose, very helpful.
Thank you so much. I am a meditation teacher and after a meditation session many times we do the child pose. Though some people are really struggling with this. Tonight I’m going to do a meditation session with a long child pose. So I will suggest this for those people and I think it will be helpful.
This is amazing. Thank you
Thank you for this! I’ve been struggling on how to do this the “right way” without losing the integrity of the pose. I’m late on commenting, but this video is SO RELEVANT to my life right now in 2021.