Off Your Mat

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

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The Modification Pose

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.



The Mother Pose

Around the age of 30, I apologized to my mother for my behavior between the ages of 13 to 19.  I felt it was the right thing to do.

At the time of my apology, I was single and had no children.  My empathy was not because I was going through the trials and tribulations of parenting.  It was perspective that prompted my act of contrition.  There were over ten years stretching between me and my distant adolescence. From my adult vantage point, I was appropriately ashamed.

Upon hearing my apology, just as appropriately, Mom laughed.  She accepted it though, with an all in a day’s work kind of response.  These days we still laugh about it.  But it was an important moment for us.

Mom & me

Mom & me

This year, I will be celebrating my 4th Mother’s Day as a mom.  Right now, my kid thinks I’m the bee’s knees.  She is so taken with me that there are times she will stop her constant busyness to hold my face in her sticky hands and tell me she loves me.  Over pizza the other day, looking at me across the pizzeria’s chipped linoleum table, she said, “Oh mommy, I love your eyes.”  Best pizza date ever.

I realize this will change. I do not look forward to it. There will be a day when she figures out I’m not so cool.  The prospect is chilling.

This particular fear gets me thinking about balancing poses.  There are days when your balance is off.  Even if it is not visible to others, balancing can become a truly daunting task when your mind is not right.

In a balance, our instructors might say, “Find your drishti” or “Soften your gaze” or “Breathe.” These are all great cues. But if you are wobbling away, drishti or no drishti, there are times when gravity or your own unsteadiness wins out and you just have to let go of the pose.

Looking back at those moments, I realize I get so caught up in my own thoughts about balancing, the act of balancing is impossible.  It goes something like this:

Here comes Tree. Ok, no big deal you’ve done this for years. Nothing to prove. Ok a little wobbly. Wait where is my drishti?  I like that spot. Or maybe I should look a little higher. Oops. Ok. ok. Little wobbly but graceful.  Trees blow in the wind. Am I throwing off the people behind me? Melting my shoulders down my back. What is that guy doing? a toe hold?  I can’t do that today. Should I try that? My foot hits the mat.

There are other days when I will literally float into a balance.  I honestly can’t recall what I might be thinking at those moments.  Its more of a feeling.  I am consciously taking all the cues.  Gazing softly at my drishti, breathing, relaxed, foot rooted, everything as it should be.  Bird of Paradise, here I come.

The difference between the two is in the first I am thinking about the moment, in the second I am in the moment.

So what does balancing have to do with my daughter’s impermanent adulation?

In yoga class, a drishti is an unmoving point of your choice that you focus on to assist your pose.  However, the full meaning of drishti isn’t limited to its use in yoga class. In Sanskrit, drishti can also mean a vision, a point of view, or intelligence and wisdom. Yoga Journal does a nice job of exploring the concept here.

Point of view. Wisdom. The only thing that allowed me to have the insight to apologize to mom for my teenage misdeeds and general jerkiness was my perspective.  My point of view gave me wisdom.

Today my daughter has made me the focus of her small scale idol worship.  (During the typing of this post she stopped me multiple times to look into my eyes, kiss my face and tell me she loved my ponytail.)  In a few years her perspective will change along with her opinions about my appearance. I could let the worry of all those changes headed my way trump this outpouring of child love. I could busy myself with what to expect instead of what is happening.

I choose, in this moment, to gaze softly upon this ever moving 3 year old vision that loves me, whether I’m wobbly or still.


I would love to hear about your favorite “mom” moment, whether it is about your mom or about being a mom. Please share in the comments.


Mother's Day 2013

Happy Mother’s Day!