Modifications in practice lead to quite a few debates. There is a camp out there claiming a black and white approach of none, and conversely the opposite, no holds barred, with each asana requiring a whole new set up of straps, blankets and blocks. Ultimately, the practice is individualized, and extremes of any kind makes me suspect. We strive for smooth, steady breathing and make shapes, contorting ourselves in the most remarkable ways at the same time. Ashtanga has the structure of set sequences and yes it’s for everyone. As a guideline on modifications, my advice would be to grasp the essence of the asana with the proper breath. For many, the motions or attempts are steps along the way to striving for your best. If what you are doing restricts the ability to breath freely either by too much stopping and fidgeting or grasping too hard, take a step back and reassess or ask your teacher.
Almost anyone would agree, we modify for injury and in my realm, there are gray areas of family, time, and balancing what’s possible with what’s available. In losing the ability to use my feet for awhile, I had been practicing from my knees, the logic of movement and energy timed to each inhale and exhale has been challenging but also highly therapeutic. I have had many days in this mix of shortened home practice. Last weekend was just that, I had quietly just set myself up and had started my funky knee sun salutations when my oldest daughter woke up looking for me. She was home visiting for the weekend, she’s working a few internships this summer keeping her away from home. In the joys of watching her becoming a grown up, I’ve had the growing pains of missing her. I spoke quietly in my exhale during my modified down dog where I was practicing behind the couch, telling her where I was. She came and sat on the window seat by my mat, watching me. After a few minutes of silence, she said out loud in realization, wow, those are sun salutations! I laughed and said yes, my version for now. She asked if we could talk while I practiced. I nodded yes, and then added I’d speak during my exhales.
It wasn’t life altering conversation, but it was sweet and intimate and a rare opportunity to catch up in not being too busy, of not needing to be anywhere else, or striving for perfection. I was happy to share and balance my needs and hers. The time spent alone with her was worth giving up some of the heat in my open mount exhales. She snapped a picture of me in my modified Purvottanasana. My walker is in the background. Incorrect method? Maybe, but the essence of the heart and shoulder opening and hip flexors stretching still felt dynamic. I did it twice, switching which leg went into lotus first. It’s a whole new ball game that way, and balances the weight distribution more evenly. Everything about that morning was a gift. A modified practice over no practice? Absolutely.
So fast forward, a week later, I’m still recovering from acute tendon degeneration in my ankles. Yet, I’m making strides. I have in the last two months gone from being unable to walk at all, to a wheelchair, a walker, crutches, and now hiking poles. I am emmensely grateful for my physical therapy. My balance is improving, but alas, slopes, uneven ground, grass, thick rugs, or sand are mostly comically impossible, though ideally just temporarily. I’ve developed an entirely new incredulous respect for toddlers letting go of the coffee table or their mom’s hand for those brave first wobbly steps, before they take off running, because I know how hard it is now. I know what it feels like to fall, but as well, be fortunate enough to have someone help you back up❤️
It’s bizarre that in such a short time I lost the ability to bear my own weight in my feet, but I am in awe and thankful that my body can heal and is on the mend. Granted, my Achilles and side tendons are tender and weak, but I’m now able to add some incremental standing movements back into my practice. No jumping, no one legged anything, no warrior sequence, no pain added above a five on the 1 to 10 scale. My movements are slow and stilted, deliberate yet awkward in transition, my guide to improvement is mercifully not a video of myself but my breathing and pain level. Focusing on trying to maintain my balance, finding my stabilizing muscles, and just witnessing it through my breath. Hard doesn’t describe it, it’s humbling, vulnerable, painful and scary, but worth it, baby steps, learning to walk again, before I can take off running.