While waiting for his little brother's nap to end, Eamonn and I sat watching old Pink Panther cartoons. In one, Pink was being chased around and into a grandfather clock by a skeleton haunting an abandoned hotel. After much smashing and crashing in the body of the clock, the two emerged and Pink whacked the skeleton, rendering him a jumbled pile of bones. With a world-weary sigh, Eamonn commented, "Well, that's what happens to skeletons." Spoken as a five-year-old who has seen it all, as far as cartoon verities go.
It got me to thinking about how we learn these cultural axioms: if some one runs off a cliff he won't realize it until he looks down; when you start running there is a boo-ga-dee, boo-ga-dee sound until your legs generate enough speed to take off; dogs hate cats; the tinkling run of a backward scale on a xylophone means a skeleton is disintegrating. They become safe reference points to guide us through the treachery of childhood.
Same with teaching yoga--you learn your sequences, the best way to teach a pose, basic modifications--and you head out on your merry way to change the world. But, like a pre-teen realizing that culture norms are a good thing to rebel against, a more experienced teacher starts to let go of the static and, perhaps, begins to experiment. How would a different arrangement of poses affect a class? Help some students understand the alignment better? Make a more comfortable forward bend?
In all our discussions of authentic yoga and teaching, we only barely touched on dealing with asana. We cited lots of texts to consider and traditions to uphold, but we didn't go very far into the physical. More superficial, perhaps, but still a very vital part of the practice to a majority of us.
I love to modify. All of this stems from a class I taught a few weeks ago, where I tried to make Surya Namaskara more palatable for an older group of students. Basically we came to standing in between each pose, so everyone could regain their balance before moving on. And they loved it and many came up to me after class thanking me for teaching a Sun Salute they could finally do. Was that wrong? It certainly wasn't Ashtangi (not that I ever pretended to be one), but it reached a lot more people than it would have otherwise.
So I want to know--how do you feel about asana? Do you feel at ease modifying poses for your students on the fly? Do you go with what you already know, or do you experiment? Is experimenting allowed in your style of yoga? Is there something that you would consider going "too far"? Is this another "hands-off-the-tradition" situation, or something more maleable?
Does your skeleton defiantly pick up his skull and keep running, or not?