As far as we know, the oldest systems of yoga were created by men—which means the majority of poses are most easily done by rectangular body types. This also means that for women who have a generous helping of breasts (like I do), some poses are difficult or even impossible, no matter how flexible and strong you are. To wit: Poses that require bringing your torso to your legs or your arms close to your chest were designed for straight lines—not curves.
So, what’s a busty yogi to do? Rather than just providing modifications for the postures, I believe we need to think a little deeper and wider as we practice and teach. Remember, asana practice accomplishes a few goals at a time, including strengthening and stretching the physical body and the subtle body. It’s not enough to merely adjust a posture; you also should be striving to create the same effect that you would if the pose were done traditionally.
Take Balasana (Child’s Pose), for example, which is designed to stretch the back and rest the legs, as well as to ease the mind and provide a break from a rigorous practice. For many large-breasted women, Child’s Pose can be an ineffective back stretch because we are not able to get our torsos close to either our knees or the floor. Some women might need to do Upavistha Konasana (Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend) and then Savasana (Corpse Pose) to accomplish what Child’s Pose does for the back and the subtle body.
Here are some other inspired ideas to help you adapt your practice if your Stanabhara (Sanskrit for breast weight) requires adjustments.
5 Pose Adjustments for Women with Large Breasts
Garudasana (Eagle Pose)
The challenge for large-breasted women: In this balancing posture that opens the shoulders and back while strengthening the core and legs and improves focus (even though your body is in multiple twists), the main challenge for a large-breasted woman is typically getting your arms in the twist in front of your chest.
The fix: To get the same benefits of the pose, both gross and subtle, aim to bring your arms into a Fire Log position (elbows on top of each other; hands on opposite shoulders) while lifting your elbows away from and above chest level. Your legs and core can be in traditional Eagle and hold for the traditional time.
Parivrtta Utkatasana (Revolved Chair Pose)
The challenge for large-breasted women: Typically the goal in this pose is to extend your arms out of Prayer and have your bottom hand touch the floor in front of your feet while stretching your top arm upward. But with large breasts, it is difficult to get your upper chest past both of your thighs, especially because your bottom arm is pushed forward in front of your breasts, and so the twist is limited.
The fix: To make this more accessible and yet still a challenge, allow your hips to twist, and at the same time, bring your bottom hand to your front knee rather than aiming for it to reach the floor. This way, you can use your knee to increase the twist. One of the big benefits of this pose is to help the digestive organs work more efficiently, so it is beneficial to focus on the twist rather than the opening of your chest.
See also 12 Yoga Poses to Boost Breast Health
Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose)
The challenge for large-breasted women: Heavy breasts can pull the body out of alignment in this posture. Even if your torso is aligned, your breasts will be closer to the floor than the rest of your body. Personally, I avoid struggling with this posture too frequently.
The fix: I will do Chaturanga a few times during my vinyasa practice, but I also give myself permission to do either a Plank Pose on my knees and then lower fully to the floor into Bhujangasana (Cobra) or Urdhva Mukha Svasanana (Upward-Facing Dog). To me, the physical benefits of Chaturanga (read: strengthening the arms and core) are less important than the subtle-body benefits of the breath connection during a vinyasa.
Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand)
The challenge for large-breasted women: Actually, Shoulderstand is a pose those of us who are generously endowed can actually do—but it looks awkward and embarrassing. I have been laughed at (OK, it was in middle school) when I appeared to be smothered by my own darn self.
The fix: There are two main goals when practicing this pose: the inversion that lengthens the spine and the chin lock. You can accomplish this by doing Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) for the chin lock and Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose) for the inversion, as well as Uttansana (Standing Forward Bend) for the spine stretch.
Marichyasana (Seated Twist)
The challenge for large-breasted women: In my experience, the complication with spinal twist is twofold: First, if you’re twisting to the right, it is difficult to get your left arm across the front of your body—even if you have the full twist in your hips and core; and second, it can be difficult to get your bent leg close to your torso. Anything extensively folded (except Standing Forward Bend, in which gravity helps you increase the fold) is mighty difficult.
The fix: My suggestion here is to take your focus away from the close fold and focus on the twist, as in Revolved Chair Pose. But here’s challenge: Instead of working on any of the traditional variations of this posture, keep your bottom leg straight, your top leg bent, and work on the twist with your arms open (most like Marichyasana III).
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