Making Modifications

Over the weekend I attended a workshop on hands-on adjustments in the standing poses from the ashtanga primary series taught by my amazing Ashtanga Teacher, Erika Abrahamian. It was a workshop geared towards yoga instructors but was also made available to students. The front end portion discussed the relationship between student and teacher and highlighted the importance of the communication being a two-way process.

Our instructor advised the teachers in the room to use all of his/her senses to be in tuned to the student. “If one is not fully present,” she advised, “injuries can happen.” Even if the teacher is fully present, injuries can still happen. Our instructor stressed the importance for students to let the teacher know when this does occur.

This last point, of course, made me think about my recent right sided back pain following a hands-on-adjustment (also known as an assist) in mysore. I did not report this injury to the teacher. She found out by reading my blog.  Honestly, I put the blame on myself, for not keeping up with my practice, rather than her. So I didn’t feel it was important to tell her about it. After I returned to mysore, I saw how important this information is to both student and teacher. Her new found awareness of my SI joint instability, scoliosis, and year-long battle with back pain and sciatica has changed how she assists me in my practice. It’s been good — especially since my practice has taken a crazy dive bomb.

I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever been at a point in my practice where I needed so many props and modifications — even when I was just starting out. Having never been here before, I really have to use my head to figure out what prop or modification would be appropriate to alleviate the pain I’m experiencing yet still achieve some benefit from the pose. It’s challenging but necessary.

In the workshop, our instructor reminded us teachers to cultivate a strong yoga practice both at home as well as through taking classes. “Your practice is your lab” she said, “It’s where you learn.” I get that. I believe that when I am finally certified to teach, I will be all the better for having been where I am today, discouraging as it is.

Several times this morning, I questioned my arrival to mysore. I moved on to the standing poses questioning if I should even try to continue. Generally my back loosens up a lot by the time I have finished my sun salutations but today was different. The instability in my left hip was significant. I modified like crazy, using blocks and a shorter stance, and still felt like my hip was going to give way any minute. By the time I’d reached prasarita padottanasana I’d run out of brain power and wasn’t sure if I should push it. So I looked to my teacher for direction.

She suggested that I skip forward to the seated poses. This sounded good for I would no longer have to worry about collapsing at the hip in the middle of the crowded mysore room. I continued modifying and used a block often to stabilize my hip when my knee was way off the mat. I also used a strap to help with the twisting in marichasana D. I moved into bhujapidasana with caution then finished off with a handful of supported bridge poses with a strap around my thighs for stabilization.

Later on, I thought about the workshop some more. Our instructor made a point to talk about how a mysore environment allows us to see patterns and work to break them up. Some of the words she used to describe the process of breaking the patterns included: destructive, hard, frustrating. She said that “breaking patterns involves both the physical and the emotional.” I contemplate this notion and wonder, with much hope, if the difficulty that I am currently experiencing in my practice (and basically most of my waking hours) is the beginning of patterns being broken, muscles learning to work in new ways, and me learning new ways to modify instead wishing I could just give up when life gets hard.

I can only hope.

Leave a Comment