The man with insight enough to admit his limitations comes nearest to perfection.
I love yoga. I believe in yoga. I am grateful to yoga and to so many wonderful and dedicated yogis – the teachers who have helped me learn and benefit from this practice.
For the past 25 years or so, I have made an effort to attend yoga classes whenever time and schedule permit. I feel strongly that the practice, in its various forms, in a cool, temperate or super-heated room, has helped me keep limber and loose. It has also helped me become more centered and focused.
That said, I find yoga very challenging, both physically and mentally. I am not naturally flexible, and my darting mind easily rebels against silence and stillness. Still, I always try to do my best to get the most out of a class.
But as I have aged into being middle-aged, I realize that getting the most out of yoga means having to “modify” a pose, changing an element to attune to strength and ability. In this manner, or so the wisdom goes, modifying a pose, customizing it so that it fits an individual’s body and mindset, allows the individual to still reap the physical benefits associated with the pose. And, just or more as important, gives the individual the opportunity to cultivate and build acceptance and determination – “I can’t do this, but I can do this.”
This is all an introduction to something I experienced the last time I took a yoga class. It was outdoors, under a tent, amidst a beautiful early evening with a light breeze tickling the blades of grass surrounding my mat. It was the first class I had taken since the pandemic hit with full force and the country went in lockdown. I felt safe and secure – it was a small group in numbers, and we were placed apart at a good social distance. The teacher was enthusiastic, fun, and the students eager and energized. It was perfect. And as we commenced with an introductory and collective “ohmm,” I realized, with a start, that I didn’t want to do yoga.
Basically, I was exhausted, sore and stiff. I had experienced a draining few weeks prior, exerting myself to the limit. But there I was, perched on pained knees, chanting along with the group. To get through the class, I knew I would have to alter the poses to meet my infirmity. And at that moment, as it often does when I least expect it to, an idea for a column struck:
Modified Yoga Positions for People Who Don’t Want to Do Yoga While They Are Doing Yoga.
Perhaps this was also a modification – thinking about writing while I worked my way through the class. It distracted my mind in a good way, away from the occasional stab of pain when I bent over or twisted. But it also kept me from falling into frustration. Just the opposite. In fact, as I wrote in my head, I also laughed in my head, if that doesn’t sound too crazy, putting humorous names and descriptions to the modifications I was making.
Here are a dozen as a start: six with descriptions, and six I’m still working on. If any yoga lovers who are readers want to add to the list and/or send me some of your favorite modifications, I’ll add them to my practice.
Hope to see you on the mat one day! Until then, Namaste. Or in this case, Nama-stay.
Horizontal Hound – A variation of Downward Facing Dog. From all fours, slowly crumple to the mat and stretch out on your stomach. You can also roll over onto your back and scratch your stomach with one or both hands while shaking a leg.
Don’t Make a Mountain out of a Molehill Pose – Rather than stand with feet together and arms at side, as the traditional Mountain Pose is held, the object here is to visualize the position from a cross-legged, seated position. If you can’t cross legs, lay down and visualize that as well.
Sinking Ship – a modification of the stomach toning, gut crunching Boat Pose. In Sinking Ship, one fills up the mouth with water or another cooling beverage and rocks side to side from a seated position.
Stool Pigeon – Has nothing do with squealing on a criminal colleague. More a combination of comfort and sound healing. The idea is to sit on blocks so the buttocks is elevated off the floor and then emit a series of soft “coos”, simulating a pigeon at rest.
Flat Tire – A distant cousin of the Wheel Pose, an extreme backbend requiring hands and feet to be on the mat, the Flat Tire only needs one to tip the head backward and blow out a stream of air in a hissing sound, as if your mouth is a tear or hole in an bicycle inner tube.
Covered Bridge Pose – The traditional Bridge Pose is a gentle backbend, designed to help explore spinal extension. In this modification, blankets positioned underneath the small of the back help to create this length, while blankets covering the front of the body and the encourage a letting go into deep rest. They also can muffle snoring if sleep occurs.
Still In Development
Favorite Chair Pose (Chair Pose)
Sunset Salutations (Sun Salutations)
Shrub Pose (Tree Pose)
Side Sank (Side Plank)
Scarecrow (Crow Pose)