Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tips for Modifying Yoga Poses

Below is a handout for this Sunday's yoga teacher training workshop at Avalon Yoga Center. We'll spend the class exploring what these strategies look like in action, applying them to challenging and contraindicated poses.

Teaching Methods: Exploring Modifications and Alternatives

Strategy 1: Simplify the pose and/or offer support. (Often easy to describe while teaching without requiring demonstration or one-on-one help)

Teaching Challenge: Choose a pose and figure out 2 simple ways to make it easier. (e.g., keeping legs straight rather than bent or vice versa; putting knees on ground; taking a wider or more narrow stance; using a block or blanket or strap; changing arm position to require less strength or flexibility)

Strategy 2: Change the foundation/orientation of pose. (More complicated to explain—typically requires teacher demonstration or one-on-one help)

Teaching Challenge: Choose a pose and find 2 other foundations/orientations for it. (e.g. from standing or seated to reclining, upside down to right side up, etc.). Ex: camel, bow, and bridge are nearly identical postures, just with different foundations. Students with injuries, sensitivities, or contraindications (e.g. lying on belly or back when pregnant) may prefer one over the others.

Strategy 3: Offer alternatives from a functionalist perspective. (If the alternatives are familiar to students or easy to demonstrate, can be worked in class without much disruption; some may require one-on-one help)

Teaching Challenge: Identify four actions/benefits/qualities of a pose or movement (e.g. breath effect, what is stretched, what is strengthened, effect on attitude, effect on energy—calming, stabilizing, or energizing). For each benefit, find an alternative pose or movement.

General Teaching Tips:

• Be supportive in the face of student “failure.” Ignoring a student’s complete inability to approach or hold a pose is not responsible teaching.

• Don’t teach to the “top” of the class. Aim to offer a practice in which the “average” student can approach most of the things you suggest without having to do extreme modifications or alternatives.

• Don’t be afraid to be creative. Modifications and alternatives don’t need to look like the original pose, as long as you can explain the benefit and purpose.

• Pay attention to pose action and effects in your own practice. You will discover relationships between poses that you can use to develop modifications and alternatives.

• Use your alternatives and modifications as preparatory practices for challenging poses. This gives students a vocabulary of options if they discover they cannot do a pose with a steady breath, body, and mind.

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