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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

But I kept practicing Marichyasana I very regularly as part of a traditional forward-bending sequence. I would start with a modified version, sitting up on a blanket and extending my arms forward rather than clasping them behind me. This made it easier to elongate my waist and rib cage. I would repeat this version briefly two or three times on each side; because I had so much physical and mental resistance, repeating it was better than holding it for a long time. When I would finally come into the full pose with the clasp later in the practice session, it would be easier because of all the preparation I had done.

After about 10 years, I finally began to feel in Marichyasana the internal spaciousness and surrender that I love. Now it is one of my favorite forward bends. I think when you work through any difficult situation, it is a form of tapas [discipline and purification] and builds confidence and mental strength. You've taken on something really challenging and come out on the other side.

Barbara Benagh on Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand)

For many years, Shoulderstand was more than frustrating—it was a horror. I had old shoulder, collarbone, and neck injuries from an auto wreck, and even though I practiced the pose using a mountain of blankets, sometimes I'd still have episodes of intense neck pain. One day in class, I had only one blanket to use when my teacher said "Shoulderstand," and I felt a huge wave of anxiety. How would I do it without my Band-Aid blankets? Later, in a different class, I received a terrible Shoulderstand adjustment, had a temper tantrum, and decided to divorce the pose forever.

Eventually, though, I realized I missed the soothing qualities of the pose. So I decided to explore it again. To get in touch with the landmarks of my shoulders, neck, and upper spine, I started with my back flat on the floor in Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose). Then I slowly developed my Shoulderstand through actions instead of by propping myself up. I found that if I pressed the back of my head and elbows down, my cervical spine and chest rose upward. Then, as I continued this rooting and slowly brought my pelvis higher, my legs floated and my body felt like a rocket ship soaring into space. To this day, when I lose that rocket ship sensation, I come down.

Shoulderstand continues to be difficult for me, but I finally feel at home while practicing it. It has taught me that you can try to avoid things, but ultimately they lie in wait for you. And it has also taught me that it's often best to walk away from something you're struggling with, chew on it, and return with a clearer perspective.

Shiva Rea on Purvottanasana
(Upward Plank Pose)

When I do Purvottanasana, I tend to feel compression around my sacrum. To avoid this, I have to work really hard to elongate my lower back and internally rotate my thighs to broaden my sacral area. Even when I do that work, I can't ground my feet well because my calves are so puny. And without that foundation, I can't lift my pelvis high enough to get a good opening in my front body. And the energy flow of the pose— it just feels so stuck. I did Purvottanasana almost every day for 10 years as part of the Ashtanga primary series, and it got incrementally easier, but I never really had a breakthrough.

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Reader Comments


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..


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!


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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