Modifications are good for your teacher

Modifications are good for your teacher

When you take a yoga class, how much do you modify?

My post from the other day, about ending up in the “wrong” yoga class, got me thinking about modifications. Many people don’t modify, which frustrates me as a teacher. No matter how often I remind the class to listen to the body, pay attention to the breath, move like yourself, move mindfully, I still watch half the class collapse to the floor while attempting to do Chaturanga Dandasana (lowering from high plank to low plank) instead of lowering their knees and coming down with control.

I also see people shake and strain in side plank and force their way into extended angle with the bind (Utthita Parsvakonasana). I hear the “ughhh” sound that signals breath retention–someone holding their breath to get through a pose.

Move like yourself, keep the breath flowing, listen to your body, let your joints tell you how far you should go, move mindfully. I keep saying it, but does the message get through?

When my students do modify, however, I take notice. Because here are other things I have seen in my many years of teaching: my regulars moving into child’s pose instead of “taking a vinyasa” after what I thought was a pretty cool standing sequence. I take note of that. I know that if my regulars are needing a break, then maybe that “pretty cool” standing sequence was too strenuous. Maybe I should dial it back.

Other things I notice: Half the class immediately falls out when I cue a balancing pose. That’s a big signal to me that I need to either pause and go over the basics of balancing, move the class to the wall (so they can put hands on the wall for assistance), or give the class some options for the pose, such as putting their foot on a block in eagle pose.

To put it another way, any good yoga teacher is keeping an eye on her class.

She notices when the students are modifying, and that helps her know what to teach next. Thus when you modify, you are giving her valuable feedback about the class.

Another benefit to modifying: If I see you modify (or skip) a pose, I might know of a way to use a prop to help you. But if you just fight your way through the pose, I’ll never know.

Many yoga teachers, including me, teach intuitively. I always try to pick up on the energy of the room, and I use that info to decide what the next pose or sequence should be. I also feel pretty strongly about listening to your body, and never pushing to your “edge,” as they say. So if I sense that the class is getting fatigued, I will choose poses that don’t require as much effort (flying locust instead of pulling bow, for example).

If I sense that there is a lot of unsettled or scattered energy, I’ll focus on the breath more, and maybe hold poses for a few extra breaths. I’ll remind the class to connect to the earth by pressing their feet down.

If I see you modify your side angle so that your elbow is on the floor, that lets me know you’ve got either a wrist or a shoulder issue. Which means I will probably change my plans for taking the class to crow pose, or offer an alternative.

See how it works? I learn from you as much as you learn from me.

What are your experiences with modifying?

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