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It’s not all bliss: how to work with poses you don’t like, part one

stone buddha faces from Thailand

Most of us come to yoga from one of two directions. We are flexible but weak, or we’re strong but stiff.

After our first few classes we already know the poses we love. They may not be effortless, but we understand their logic and find them exhilarating to practice.

Then there are those other poses, the ones we dread.
Right away, they smack us up against our limitations, whether that’s tight hamstrings or weak triceps. Worse yet, they can drag us into nausea, dizziness and fear.
Next week I’ll tackle physical strategies for working with poses you don’t like.

For today, here are two ideas for changing your mental approach.
1. As maddening as it is to hear the person next to you contentedly sighing in a twist that’s squeezing the air out of your lungs, consider this: each one of us struggles with different poses. Someone out there hates the poses you turn to for comfort, and someone else is bound to love the poses you most avoid.
That means it’s at least possible that you too could come to love whatever pose currently drives you away from your mat.
Notice what you tell yourself when your least favorite pose comes up. Practice flipping “I’ll never do that,” into “maybe, someday.”
Be particularly on guard against the self-limiting definition – “I’m just not a back-bender.” “I’ll never do a headstand.”
Instead, remind yourself that you can’t possibly predict how your poses will change over time. Leave your options open.

2. Claim your detested poses as your own unique suffering, tailored to fit you, and you alone, by everything that has happened in your life up to this point.
Truth is, if you caught a good look at someone else’s suffering, you likely would turn down the chance to trade.
Whatever it is you most need to know, change, or release is waiting for you in those poses. Welcome them, because they hold more potential for freedom than a hundred effortless asanas.
Just remember, nothing says you have to process your suffering all at once.
The key is to find a way to take on the right amount, every time you practice.

Benefits: By changing the way you think about the poses you hate, you create a larger picture of what’s going on. You’re not a victim any more.

Sequence: All the time, on and off the mat.

Ouch: Changing our self-image can be scary. Suppose you could do chatturanga dandasana (the yoga push-up) with ease? Or open into an easy, graceful backbend? Who would you be?

If you liked this post, you might also like:

It’s not all bliss: how to work with poses you don’t like, part two

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Richard Harrsion March 1, 2010, 10:25 pm

    Hi Eve, in the spirit of “maybe someday” as contrasted with “I’ll never do that”, here’s a personal account of a welcome shift in physical flexibility that followed a shift in mental attitude (characterized by gentle acceptance of limitation balanced with a gentle vision and intention for change).

    For over 25 years i have been unable to touch my toes. More than once, when I set a new year’s resolution to stretch out my hamstrings, I ended up with a muscle spasm in my back by the end of January, and I would flip back into the “I’ll never do that” mindset.

    A couple of years back I decided my theme song for touching my toes again would be the Supremes’ final single: “Someday, we’ll be together again.” It was a wistful song, with some sad acceptance of “what is” blended with a vision of what could be, of a potential future unfolding. I yielded to the idea that I had to start where I was (to paraphrase Pema Chodron) and that I could not force my way to where I wanted to be (indeed that i might never get there)., And lo and behold. I can now touch my toes again! On some days, my fingers and toes are together again. warm regards, richard

    • Eve March 2, 2010, 10:00 am

      Great story, Richard. I like the idea of practice theme songs.
      Not sure what mine would be, although I have fantasized hiring some reggae guys to follow me around singing the chorus from Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry: “Everything’s going to be alright, Everything’s going to be alright.”
      It would be reassuring background music.