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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

Most of the time these days, I do Purvottanasana with bent knees. That lets me experience its strength instead of being blocked by my weakness, my spindly calves. I also use creative, fluid ways to approach the pose, like coming into it from Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose) instead of lifting up from Dandasana (Staff Pose). This method creates more opening in the front of my torso and my shoulders. It also allows me to access my intuitive spirit to feel my way into my best expression of the pose. I think most of us experience lifting from Dandasana into Purvottanasana as a real grunt; coming into it more fluidly allows the inner bhava [the taste or flavor of the experience] to not be shocked by that energetic grunt.

Although I haven't exactly learned to love Purvottanasana, it's important to me not to avoid it, because it teaches me about my aversions and their roots. It has also helped me realize that there are many different paths up the mountain; there are ways to receive the opening of Purvottanasana without forcing my body or obsessing about perfect outer form.

Seane Corn on Parivrtta Trikonasana
(Revolved Triangle Pose)

I have a slight scoliosis [a sideways curve of the spine], so one side of my spine is really restricted. When I do Parivrtta Trikonasana on my challenged side, I have to be on my fingertips or even a block to get the spinal extension I need. On a physical level, the pose is really restricted; I can't breathe freely, and it often just doesn't feel good. And in terms of my ego, it's very humbling.

But unless I'm doing a restorative session, I always include Parivrtta Trikonasana in my practice, because I know the pose is one of my greatest teachers. Sometimes I'll just make it part of my warm-up. Other times I'll create an entire sequence around it and make it the apex of the session.

To prepare for the pose, I'll practice Sun Salutations to warm up my body and then do some hamstring-stretching poses and a series of basic floor twists. To come into Parivrtta Trikonasana, sometimes I start from Parsvottanasana with my hands on the floor, or I'll do a modified Parivrtta Trikonasana with my front knee bent so I can focus on the rotation in my torso. Parivrtta Trikonasana on my difficult side has definitely helped teach me humility—and patience, acceptance, and surrender. When I'm in a difficult situation these days, sometimes I think to myself, "Well, this is just Parivrtta Trikonasana." In the past, if something was uncomfortable, I might have just avoided it. Now, the more challenged I am, the more interested I am: Why don't I want to go there? What can this teach me?

Baron Baptiste on Garudasana
(Eagle Pose)

I struggled with Garudasana for years. I always had difficulty with the finishing act of wrapping my free foot around the standing ankle. There would be times when I could do it effortlessly, but other times I'd really have to work at it, which would often throw me off-balance. And it would really frustrate me to be in a group practice and see other practitioners who could do it so effortlessly. I had a lot of internal turmoil about the fact that I couldn't get the pose 'right."

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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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