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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

SEVEN TACTICS FOR TRANSFORMATION

OK, so maybe by now you're kinda sorta convinced that practicing poses you find onerous might be a good idea. But where do you start? The thought of forcing yourself to do one of your least favorite poses the same old unpleasant way probably feels discouraging—and it's not the most helpful method, either. Instead, stand back for a moment and consider the following steps for transforming your relationship with these poses.

Identify Your Discomfort. Your first step should be determining exactly why you loathe a pose. Understanding why you dislike it so much is the key to figuring out how to come to terms with it.

One of the most obvious reasons is that it causes you physical discomfort or even pain. Such discomfort can take a lot of different forms. Many students say Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) and Halasana (Plow Pose) make them feel trapped and claustrophobic. Others complain that their breathing feels constricted in twists, or that they just feel jammed and stuck in some forward bends and backbends.

Over time, you should be able to reduce and maybe even eliminate these discomforts. Do keep in mind, of course, that some mild muscle pain may be inevitable along the way as you ask your body to move and stretch in ways that it doesn't in daily life. (Caution: Always pay attention to sharp pain; it is usually an important message from your body indicating that you should back off immediately.)

Another reason you might hate a pose is that it causes you fear. Maybe you worry about harming yourself: hurting your lower back in backbends, straining your neck in Shoulderstand, or falling on your face in arm balances. Or you may experience so much disorientation—or sheer terror—in inversions like Headstand and Handstand that you find yourself making an unnecessary and exceptionally long trip to the restroom every time your teacher calls for them.

Finally, difficulties with a pose are often compounded by embarrassment or shame. Some students hate Chaturanga Danda- sana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose) because it makes them feel like a weakling; others suffer from performance anxiety in Virabhadrasana III (Warrior Pose III) and Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose), worrying that they are going to fall out of the poses in front of the whole class.

Once you've figured out exactly why certain poses are so irksome to you, you can begin to employ specific tactics to address your personal challenges.

Use props and pose variations. If you take a moment to think about it, you may realize that you already know variations and props to make a pose you find difficult much more accessible. If you need more suggestions, most teachers can give you a hand. Patricia Walden, Barbara Benagh, and Seane Corn all cite props and modifications as crucial in their work with difficult poses (see below).

As part of this approach, you can take small steps toward the pose without trying to do the full position. For example, your version of Handstand could be putting your hands on the floor and walking your feet up the wall. As you get stronger, steadier, and more confident, you can try lifting one leg at a time toward the ceiling. Eventually, you may find that you're prepared to tackle the full pose.

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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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