Modifying is not Cheating. That’s what I tell my Yoga students, but why is it so hard to believe when it comes to my own fitness goals?
As a Yoga teacher, we learn how to show students modify poses. Modifications may be used for so many reasons. Pregnancy mods are extremely important even if the Mom is a long time Yogi as some movements, especially in the later part of the pregnancy are just impossible to do and could be harmful to the baby. Past or recent injury could also be reason to modify. Some mods are absolutely necessary when it comes to further injury prevention as well as the aid in the healing process. Sometimes mods are used just because your body doesn’t move that way, or at least doesn’t like moving that way. Countless times I have shown modifications in classes only to have someone say after “I still can’t do the pose the right way, I have to modify” To which my answer is, “You were doing it the right way. For you.”
In Yoga, as in any type of fitness activity, there is a fine line between discomfort and harm. Yoga’s purpose, at least the way I practice, is to find flexibility, strength, breath, and calmness. The flexibility of the muscles may not always be where you want it to be. Some days may even differ from others. To stretch out the muscle groups should not be met with searing pain or create a feeling of complete discomfort. Strengthening is built over time too, yet we beat ourselves up if we can’t do what others are doing in the class with out altering the pose or using props. The breath should always be present in a pose. To lose the breath is to lose the pose. Using the inhalations to settle into the pose and the exhalations to extend or grow in the pose is something that also takes time to coordinate and learn. Finally, calmness or serenity, what ever you want to call it, I think this may be the most difficult for people. I have been told after a class that the hardest part is Savasana. Your mind wanders back to the place you just came from, or it goes back to work or to the list of things you need to do. Be kind to yourself with Savasana. Even if you can be present for just a few moments at a time, that is your modification for that pose. Over time, just like any pose, the modifications will become an aid to get you to the place your body and mind need to be in that pose. Over time, some poses may evolve into less modifications, others may stay put where they are for a while.
Fitness activities like running, biking, hiking, and the popular cross fit workouts, all can be modified to help get you to the place you can enjoy the activity without compromising your body and possibly doing harm. There are many runners who do a walk/run combination in order to be more gentle on their joints and muscles. In fact, that type of modification has become extremely popular even during race time.
Presently, Val and I are involved in a 30 day burpee challenge. I had a bad experience with cross fit type movements previously but had felt really good over the last year. The problem lies with my sacrum/hip area. I know it is probably from way too many years of pounding the pavement and wracking up the kilometres. The first week seemed to go ok with the burpee challenge, until we had to do over 30. The next day, my hips and sacrum were not happy with me. I was fine as long as I stayed up right but sitting was brutal. Val gave me some mods for the burpee challenge and at first I was hesitant. Honestly, I wanted to just give up instead. I would rather have not done it at all if I had to modify. Yeh, I know. Sounds a little crazy to me too. I tried the mods and found one that worked well for me. I still feel like I am getting what I need to out of the burpee but safely for my hips. Two weeks later and a few restorative Yoga classes and I am back to normal. I am still running and burpeeing(?) but with the mods in place.
The fact is, sometimes we just have to do the modifications. It doesn’t mean you are cheating. Sometimes your body isn’t willing to go places your mind wants to push you to go. Modifications help us listen to the body instead of telling the body what to do.