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Poses We Hate

No matter how advanced your practice is, surely there are asanas you'd just as soon avoid. Here, five top teachers divulge their nemeses and what they've learned by practicing them.

By Nina Zolotow and Jason Crandell

If you've ever experienced negative feelings or even—dare we say it?—hate for certain yoga poses, you're not alone. In fact, you're in very good company. Many popular and accomplished yoga teachers have also struggled with certain asanas, including some of the most basic ones. Patricia Walden, one of only two advanced senior Iyengar teachers in the United States, spent years hating "that God-awful Marichyasana I." Baron Baptiste, who offers his popular yoga "bootcamps" all over the country, used to get horribly frustrated when he did Garudasana, because he'd fall out of the pose if he tried to wrap his foot around his ankle. And popular vinyasa teacher and yoga trance dance creator Shiva Rea still calls her least favorite pose "Poor Me Purvottanasana."

Yet, as these teachers would be the first to tell you, the very poses we hate are some of the most valuable ones for us to practice. Fortunately, there are many tactics that not only can make it easier to practice those bothersome poses, but also can make the experience less daunting—and maybe even fun. If you apply the tips and tricks outlined in this article, you'll see why it's so valuable to work on asanas you struggle with, gain insight about just why you hate the poses you do, and discover how to turn your nemeses into your greatest teachers.

EVERY DIFFICULTY HAS A SILVER LINING

So why, you might ask, would you want to practice poses you loathe? For one thing, these poses often specifically address your physical imbalances; they build strength and flexibility in exactly the places that need it most. If you sit hunched all day in front of a computer, backbends may be difficult for you, but they're also just what your body needs. Or maybe years of running have left you with tight hamstrings. It would be no surprise if you despise forward bends, but those are exactly the poses that will move you toward physical balance.

In addition, doing poses you find physically difficult or that scare you can be a great antidote to staleness in your practice; it's exhilarating to take on new challenges. And even if you don't achieve immediate results, you'll often find that a sweet feeling of relief arises when you face difficulties instead of evading them.

Practicing poses you tend to shun also teaches you to cultivate equanimity in the face of challenge. When you take the time during your yoga practice to study how you deal with difficulty, you may gain insights that will assist you with the tough stuff elsewhere in your life. Do you ignore difficulty? Approach it timidly? Rush at it headlong? Become overwhelmed by it? Once you identify habits that aren't serving you, you can begin the process of pausing, taking a deep breath, and searching for a more effective approach.

Regularly facing the poses you find most intimidating can also help you change your self-image—from incapable to capable, say, or from timid to brave. For instance, Patricia Walden says Handstand is a "power pose" for many female students. She's observed that learning to get up and stay up in it builds so much confidence and mental strength that the experience is often life-changing.

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Reader Comments

Louise

I remember when I first started going to Yoga classes..As soon as my teacher announced handstand or some other pose I hated. I would have an urgent need to go to the toilet, have a drink anything to avoid it the task at hand. I now find with practice that all of these poses I talk with equanamity rather than avoidance. For me the change in my bodies ability (these poses arent as challenging as they used to be) the more my mind gave up the struggle as well. although there are some poses I still struggle with there isnt the same resistance to at least try..

Buds-dogma

I can't say I have found any poses that actually frieghten me...just ones that are hard (or initially impossible) to do. First have an expert assess your alignment and be certain you understand the pose. Yoga Journal's in depth descriptions are a tremendous resource. Then work on the source of the problem. If I'm worried about the landing in the event I happen to fall out of a pose, I do something about it. For example, if I think Crow pose might become a face plant, I'll put a folded up towel down where I think an emergency landing pad might come in handy. If I find a pose too challenging, I'll analyze where the problem seems to be. If a muscle is lacking, hit the weight room at the gym to specifically strengthen the neccessary muscles if they've proved to be too weak/puny. Also, work on problem issues in your everyday life, not just in your practivce: To improve balance, try standing on one leg while doing everyday tasks. In stead of sitting on furniture while you're watching TV, get down on the floor and work on opening joints or stretching stubborn tissues by simply holding passive poses that work the problem area. You'll be suprised how much your practice will improve when you actually have the strength and flexibility needed. And, when something does go awry, remember to laugh out loud and give it another try!

Gina

When ever I feel trepidation about practicing any pose I tune in to the fact that because I perceive it as difficult the pose must be exactly what I need to incorporate into my practice. As I mindfully investigate and practice the pose I find that my inner guide eventually soars from the experience. My yoga practice for various reasons since 2002 has been primarily a home based. Between the insightful articles in the Yoga Journal and constant reading I have learned to challenge poses which scare me one at a time and have been rewarded with balance returning to my life.

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