Off Your Mat

Bringing yoga off your mat into your life, one pose at a time.

The Modification Pose

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There are a number of asanas that are energizing, exciting and a little bit frightening to beginners. I can remember the first time I saw Bird of Paradise (Svarga Dvidasana). I wasn’t even sure of what I was looking at when I saw it.

bird steps 1-2

bird of paradise

For months I didn’t even attempt it. I stayed breathing in my bound side angle pose watching others move into Bird of Paradise. As I gained confidence in my practice, I began the awkward shuffle step out of my side angle pose pictured above in step 3. I was content to hobble up to the top of my mat with my arms locked around my thigh.  I felt silly crouched there but I wasn’t quite ready to stand. I was practicing alone at home when I finally stood up into Bird of Paradise. With the freedom of privacy, I floated right up into the pose. It gave me the heart to try it in the studio.

As with most things, yoga related or not, I didn’t just jump in at expert level. I modified the pose until I was ready to take the full expression.

In my experience, among beginners, one of the most commonly feared poses is Wheel.


Wheel Pose – Urdhva Dhanurasana

This is often an intimidating pose to novice yogis. It requires flexibility, strength, balance and control. These are all areas where beginners might not have complete confidence.

That doesn’t mean they have to skip the pose! This is where the art of modification is most beneficial.

So many asanas incorporate the back bend and can be used to work up to a full wheel.

There is Cobra (Bhujangasana) that is a gentle and supported.



Or there is Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) that is particularly gentle on the shoulders.

Yoga (Bridge Pose)


I use Wheel as an example, but all challenging poses can be modified, allowing yogis to progress safely to more challenging levels.

Modifications are most beneficial when building a yoga practice or coming back after an injury. The modification allows the practitioner to reap the benefits of the pose, while lessening the risk of injury. The human body needs to become accustom to new positions and challenges. Just as a casual jogger shouldn’t run a marathon without any training, novice yogis shouldn’t push their bodies beyond comfort.

That goes for our state of mind as well. If a pose is frightening, if you get nervous just thinking about it, take a modification. Work into the challenge over time. Our minds need the same progressive and gentle support as our bodies.

This week, I invite you to take the art of modification off your mat. If something is frightening, approach it step by step. Do not risk injury trying to jump in as an expert. Allow yourself to accept gentle support when faced with a challenge.

Modify until you are ready to float into your version of full expression.


Author: Sara Gray

Sara Gray is a legal assistant who moonlights as a freelance writer and blogger.

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