The Definition of "Modification" in Yoga Asana

Ellen Kaye and I have just finished leading Week 1 of our latest 200-hour teacher training at the new Kindness Yoga in Stanley Marketplace. We're trying something new this year: 4 hours per day, 3 days per week, 15 weeks total (plus homework and class observations). It's a great format so far and I'm really inspired by the enthusiasm and learning strength of this group.

At the beginning of most trainings like this one, I like to spend a little time defining important terms like asana and modification. A great definition clarifies not only WHAT a word involves, but also WHY that word matters. It gives you a set of boundaries, which can focus your efforts and help you be more creative and effective. I believe when students are starting with a great set of definitions, everything they do moving forward has an extra dimension of power behind it.

So today I thought I'd share the definition we're working with for modification in yoga posture practice:

A modification is a change made to at least one element of a posture, so that another part of the the posture becomes more radiant, balanced, effective, and safe.

In other words, to modify does not mean making the pose "easier." To modify means to use some creative means to grant greater access to the posture. For this reason, a great modification may in some cases actually make the pose feel harder.

A modification is a trade-off. It's an acknowledgement that everything cannot always be the priority at once, and therefore is a decision about what matters most in a particular moment. Great modifications come from great discernment.

A modification also contains the recognition that each body is unique, and so is each lesson and each sequence of postures.

Practicing and/or teaching modifications demonstrates that you are willing to allow form to take a backseat to function.

Over the course of my own asana studies, I have discovered that the beautiful, flawless angles we are used to seeing on social media and in books are not necessarily the angles that maximize a posture's benefits and minimize its risks in a particular body. The belief that optimal function converges with idealized form can be a dangerous doctrine. Instead, these pictures of "general form" are useful templates for teaching and patterns for exploring and learning. I've increasingly come to think that they are meant to be modified - and that requires listening deeply, employing discernment and creativity, making clear choices, clarifying the relationship between a boundless consciousness and a constrained physical self, etc.

Hmm. Sounds like... yoga ;p