Standard Modifications, aka. Instructions I Ignore

I’ve been reviewing a fair number of video practices, both online and in DVD format, looking both for ones I like and ones that work toward being accessible to a larger range of body types. While there is a lot of overlap between those two categories, it’s not a perfect fit. I do sometimes find myself liking a practice that doesn’t explicitly offer a lot of accommodations. When I look at why that is, since my body and the video instructor’s body are invariably quite different, I realize this is because I’m adding in my own modifications automatically.

Then I wondered if my list of standard modifications would be useful to anyone else, whether it’s because a person is fatter or less flexible or less strong or just doesn’t bend that way compared to the instructor in the video. Of course, my accommodations are not going to be everyone’s accommodations, they might help to provide a baseline for people who aren’t so familiar with modifying for themselves.

Some are variations (all on relatively common poses) I virtually always take, no matter what, while some are what I call “first-timers.” That is, I use them the first time I’m trying out a particular video, when I’m not sure how challenging it will turn out to be — and I’d rather be safe than sorry. I also use them the first time I’m in a pose on a given day, to see how my body is responding. (I might also use them on bad pain days to make an otherwise strenuous workout more manageable.)

The “Always” List:

  • Arms shoulder width apart: For the longest time, I didn’t see how an upward salute with palms touching could be done. Then I figured out how it could, but not how it could be done sans clanging shoulder pain. So I said, “Eff this!” and stopped.(Now I can tell you it’s likely to be the shape of my coracoacromial arch, but that may not mean so much to lots of people.) Despite not being able to touch my hands over my head, my practice has not suffered greatly.
  • Feet hip distance apart: In tadasana, in uttanasana, in up dog, in dandasana, in chair (sometimes) — in pretty much every pose where the feet might be big toes touching or hip width apart. The latter variation is not always verbally offered, but I always do it. My pelvis is sufficiently wide that there’s a meaningful difference between the two places, and most of the time, the latter is much better for me. (The exception is chair pose twist, which, while common, is not exactly up there with tadasana on the frequent pose chart.)
  • Child’s pose: With my knees apart and my arms forward. Between the belly, thighs, butt, and boobs, the knees together variation feels more compressing than resting.
  • Plow with my feet resting on a block or bolster instead of the floor behind me. It keeps my breasts from falling onto my throat, which is awesome.

The “First Timer” List:

  • Knees bent: In both uttanasana and down dog, at least at the beginning. This gives me time to stretch out my spine. On days where I’m feeling particularly tight in my hips and low back, I may never straighten my knees in these poses.
  • Knees down for chaturanga: I’m more likely to do this with an unfamiliar practice, particularly one I expect to be on the more vigorous side. If it happens to be pleasantly easy the first time, well, I prefer that to putting too much strain on my wrists because I’m tiring out my upper body muscles.
  • Cobra instead of up dog: I do this pretty much whenever I put my knees down in chaturanga. I find the transition to be much more fluid for me. Additionally, transitioning back to down dog through all fours — rather than back up through plank — is nice here too.
  • Keep a butt cushion handy: I’m sure everyone has their favorite props, and a rolled towel under the sitting bones is one of mine. I’m likely to use it in any seated forward folds — as well as any incarnation of cow face pose, folded or not — provided the pose is held sufficiently long. It sometimes takes a bit to get set up with the prop, I usually start without it the first time through a practice and only add it in if I know I’ll have enough time or if I know the set up time will be worth it.

Of course there are lots of other variations and modifications to work with different bodies and different needs. These are mine, and I’m sure they won’t work for everybody — But I do hope that they help create the idea that in yoga, at least some of us are modifying poses all the time.


I'm here. I like stuff. Some other stuff, I like less.

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7 comments on “Standard Modifications, aka. Instructions I Ignore
  1. blogromp says:

    This is a great list of modifications. Several of them are regulars for me, too.

    I also try to occasionally make modifications or use props in poses that I don’t “need” to, because as my practice evolves, I find that there may be new alignment cues or muscular access that are now available to me when I’m not working to the edge of my flexibility. I’ve managed to tap into some small, quiet muscles that way, which then rippled out and transformed my entire practice.

    The ability to do this required me to get past the culturally-pervasive idea of having to work as hard as I can at whatever I’m doing. One of the best things my yoga practice has taught me is the importance of alternating challenge with gentleness (which can include rest, modifications, or simply taking stock during my practice rather than ‘working’). Many of my biggest breakthroughs come not when I’m challenging myself, but rather when I’m soft and quiet and allowing a pose to unfold from within.

  2. Glauke says:

    I applied your modifications to the child’s pose in yoga-pilates class last Monday and strech-relaxation flooded me. I’m sorry I’m not better at explaining the feeling.

    “So that’s what this pose is about”, my brain added.

    So, thank you for that.

    • Tori says:

      You’re very welcome. 🙂

      And yes, when your brain has those clicks of understanding, those are the kind of modifications worth paying attention to for you.

  3. Nice list. I practice Anusara (ex-Anusara?) primarily for years, and many of these modifications are naturally part of that practice’s alignment points. When I went to my first vinyasa class in several years, I felt SO uncomfortable. I love the idea of sharing these, and making “modifications” more acceptable, rather than the “weak” way. So much more opening when your body is safe! Thanks!

    • Tori says:

      I have a teacher who uses the descriptor “Anusara-inspired,” and she likes to term them as “options” rather than modifications, which I like. To me, “options” all sound objectively equal, rather than one being seen as more or less advanced or whatever.

  4. Quercki says:

    Rolled towel butt cushion? What diameter is the roll and where exactly do you place it?
    (I’ve been using a folded blanket–maybe an inch in thickness, which sometimes extends about a hand’s width in front of the sit bones, and sometimes I try to just barely slide my sit bones off the edge.)

    • Tori says:

      Depending on the towel, the roll is probably 2.5-4 inches in diameter before I sit on it; it does get squishier when I sit. In terms of placement, if you imagine the rolled towel as a clock with 12 at the top, my sit bones are just forward of the top… at maybe 11 o’clock (or 1 o’clock, depending on how you look at it).

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