Shoulder Restrictions in the Yoga Class

People come to their yoga class with injury and restrictions all the time.  There is no standard injury or restriction. Everyone tends to have their own variation.

What can you do as a teacher?  Students rarely flag up things up beforehand, they just mention it as the class starts and your class plan could potentially fall apart before you’ve even begun.

My student has an existing shoulder restriction, we work around that.  Today was different.  She’d cut her hand.  Any weight bearing, think Downward Dog, was out.   She was very helpful.  ‘Don’t and worry about me, I’ll do what I can.’

There’s always a way to accommodate your student, to include him or her in the class.  As a yoga therapist, I do have the option to use a chair and yoga therapy classes tend to be small so I can keep a close eye on students.  Useful for exploring range of movement and options.  Not terribly helpful if you’re about to start your Vinyasa flow with 20 students in your class.

Downward Dog Options:

In a standard flow sequence, this pose features a lot!  Standard modifications include feet wider apart and legs bent.  Lifting the bottom high can lessen pressure from the hands.  Donna’s slight shoulder restriction doesn’t normally impact Downward Dog.  Some shoulder issues can.  It depends what they are.  Either way, a cut hand today and this pose was off the menu.  

  • Cat can be an alternative.  When everyone else is in their flow, Cat-Cow can be useful until the student feels able to re-join the flow.   
  • Resting in Child’s Pose or a Swan version is always an option.
  • If Downward Dog is fine but stepping forward impacts the shoulder, then dropping the knees to the ground and moving the hands to the side, giving space to step up from kneeling can be a useful modification tool.
  • Using a chair or a ledge to rest the hands for a modified Downward Dog is helpful but not every class has a convenient ledge or chair to hand.

Standing Options:

This is slightly easier to manage. 

  • Invite your student to raise their hands to the side in a circle upwards and also downwards.  As it happens today, another student has a problem joining palms and bringing them straight down through the centre to join in Prayer Pose at the sternum.  Circling the hands down neatly gets around that problem.
  • Raise your hands less!  The second you see a student managing to have their palms together above their head but their head is coming forward is a ‘aha’ moment.  Get them to raise their hands less and widen them.    Elbows can be bent.  Hands can be at shoulder height or if this is too much, they can be placed on the waist.  Whatever feels comfortable.

Other Options:

  • You can always invite your student to rest. 
  • You can invite your student to imagine the pose or just use just one arm.
  • You can also involve your student in the class in other ways.  Hand out belts, distribute hand-outs, demonstrate how they are modifying their pose today.


  • Every student with whatever restriction, brings their own lesson. 
  • You learn to think on your feet and to adapt.
  • Your gain experience and your teaching skills are honed. 
  • If you just can’t think straight, don’t worry, your student can rest, do what they can, even if it’s just imagining the poses or only using one arm, resting the other arm with any restriction. 
  • Your student can end up teaching you!