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Do you ever feel like Wild Thing is totally attainable, but you can’t stop wobbling in Tree Pose? Or maybe popping up into Crow Pose feels simple yet Chair Pose feels like a challenge every time. You’re not alone. Even yoga teachers with decades of experience still struggle with so-called “easy” yoga poses. The reason? There really is no such thing as an “easy” pose.
“To put value judgments on yoga poses—to say something is easy or hard—is just not possible,” says Nicki Doane, co-owner and director of Maya Yoga Studio in Maui. “In a class, everyone is doing the same pose and everyone is having a different experience. Everyone’s body is different; some of us are strong and stiff, and some of us are weak and flexible, and what’s going on in your own body and mind affects how you feel about the pose. There are no ‘easy’ poses, only ones we may feel more at ease in.”
While this may be true, there’s a good chance there are some poses you don’t feel “at ease in,” simple as the pose may seem. And veteran yogis can relate. Here, top teachers share the relatively easy poses that they and their students are still trying to master—plus tips to make them a little less frustrating.
Sarah Finger, CEO, ISHTA Yoga
Hardest “easy” pose: Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
Finger says Tadasana can be incredibly challenging because it forces us to be with ourselves completely and not run away from the present moment. “I always tell my students that even though Tadasana is not the most exotic pose, it can certainly be the most powerful because it teaches us how to [be more present],” she says.
How to make it easier: Suctioning the floor up through the soles of the feet can help you feel more present in Tadasana, says Finger. “This creates a subtle lift of the pelvic floor and helps to create a sense of steadiness and strength in the legs,” she says. “Then I bring my arms alongside my body and my palms to face forward so I broaden across my collarbones. I gently nod my head from side to side to make sure I am not holding on to any unnecessary tension in my body. I relax my jaw, soften my facial muscles, and breathe into the posture. It is the perfect balance of steadiness and ease, strength and surrender, matter and spirit.”
Coral Brown, teacher trainer
Hardest “easy” pose: Dandasana (Staff Pose)
While Dandasana appears to be simple at first glance, it’s actually very challenging, says Brown.“Dandasana isn’t the fanciest or most advanced pose, but it requires skillfulness and effort. I feel my heart rate increase after the first couple of breaths,” she says. “Dandasana is challenging for many students because of the isometric muscular effort it demands to work against gravity and sustain this shape: To sit upright at a 90-degree angle requires all of the postural muscles to show up and work hard, and many of our daily actions (sitting, slumping, texting, computer time) create muscular imbalances that make it even harder to recruit the postural muscles needed for Dandasana.”
How to make it easier: Pay attention to the muscles that need to be stretched and strengthened for this pose, Brown says. For example, the hamstrings need to be stretched to avoid pulling the pelvis into a posterior tilt (which would cause slumping). For ankle flexion, the calves need some TLC. The hip flexors, quadriceps, adductors, erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, and rhomboids also need to be ready to work. Break down the pose and isolate each muscle group via poses, or movements, that target the specific actions of each of those muscles.
Colleen Saidman Yee, yoga teacher, co-founder of Yoga Shanti
Hardest “easy” pose: Tree Pose (Vrkasana)
Tree Pose may seem like Yoga 101 to you, but acclaimed yoga teacher Colleen Saidman Yee still struggles with it. “I know it sounds crazy, but the pose that often has me gripping my breath and grinding my teeth is Tree Pose,” she says. “I never demonstrate it when I’m teaching. I have put it in routines for videos a few times and have to have at least 10 takes to nail it.”
How to make it easier: When performing this pose, remember that like a tree, it’s OK to sway, says Saidman Yee. “Find a soft and definite gaze on something that is not moving just below the horizon line.” And try to be OK with falling. “It shouldn’t be so embarrassing,” she adds. “Who cares, really? We all fall—that’s life.”
Kathryn Budig, international yoga teacher
Hardest “easy” pose: Ustrasana (Camel Pose)
This pose tends to look a lot easier than it actually is, says Budig. “I’m not sure I think Ustrasana is ‘easy,’ but it’s certainly a ubiquitous pose taught in public classes,” she says. “I have it in my head that I should be able to reach my heels with ease, but it always feels like some epic hero’s journey to get there. It’s a good reminder that just because something looks accessible certainly doesn’t mean it is.”
How to make it easier: Remember: the point of this pose is not touching your heels with your fingers, says Budig. It’s about opening the chest and lengthening the front body—not just reaching your heels. “You can always curl your toes under to cut off a bit of the distance to your heels, or simply keep your hands wrapped around your hips with your elbows hugging in toward each other like tucked wings,” she says. “This will help you keep your pelvis neutral, hips forward, and feel the potential for growth between your sternum and base.”
Larissa Hall Carlson, Ayurvedic yoga specialist
Hardest “easy” pose: Supported Half Shoulderstand
Carlson says common misalignments lead her students to struggle with this pose. “Half Shoulderstand tends to be really tough on students’ wrists and elbows,” she says. “I often see too much weight on the head and neck when the alignment isn’t comfortable, and that can crunch the cervical spine and scrunch the abdomen. These misalignments can cause the posture to be overly challenging and heating, instead of relaxing and cooling, as it’s meant to be.”
How to make it easier: Carlson’s simple fix is to rest the low back and sacrum on a yoga block or sturdy bolster. “This elevates your hips and allows your legs to stay upright and together without much effort,” she says. “The block allows for a natural stacking of the legs and opening of the belly. Keep your shoulders broad, neck relaxed, and face soft. Close your eyes, breathe slowly, and enjoy!”
Nicki Doane, co-owner and director of Maya Yoga Studio
Hardest “easy” pose: Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
“The reason this seemingly simple posture is so hard for people is that most Westerners have very tight hamstring muscles and hips,” says Doane. “And because people are often averse to using props, they sacrifice the alignment of the pose.”
How to make it easier: For starters, don’t think you’re too advanced to use props, says Doane. “I teach the pose more like they do in Iyengar yoga, and I make everyone use a block even if they think they don’t need it,” she says. The block under the hand helps to keep your spine extended, which in turn gives more access to the hamstrings. “I actually have a few students who need two blocks under their hands because they are so stiff. The funny thing is that people think using the blocks will make the pose easier, when it actually gives them more access to the stiff muscles and makes the pose harder and therefore more effective,” says Doane. Still feel wobbly? Doane suggests practicing this pose with your back against the wall.
Jillian Pransky, director of Restorative Therapeutic Yoga teacher training for YogaWorks
Hardest “easy” pose: Savasana
Savasana may look like naptime, but it’s harder than most people think, says Pransky. “While unwinding in this resting pose can seem delightful and rejuvenating for most, many people find it difficult to lie down flat on their backs,” she says. “Savasana is a very expansive pose and can be demanding on us physically, mentally, and emotionally.” Physically, your shoulders and neck may be too tight to lie flat comfortably. It is also common to have discomfort or pain in your low back, especially if your psoas is tight. What’s more, truly resting in Savasana can be a very vulnerable experience; the nervous system naturally wants to guard and protect the body, rather than splay it open to others. (This may be especially true during times of challenge, grief, stress, or when coping with trauma.)
On a mental level, Savasana can be particularly challenging as well, says Pransky, because the mind has fewer physical tasks and sensations to focus on than it does in more active poses. The result? Your attention is more likely to turn toward your flow of endless thoughts.
How to make it easier: Surfboard (a restorative modification of Savasana) helps to release lower back tension, elongate the spine, and soften the rigidity of our “turtle shell,” says Pransky. “In this version of the pose, the breath deepens and expands the back as the front body drops into the embrace of the props, helping to calm and soothe the mind and body, and eliciting the parasympathetic nervous system. Being on the belly in this way also allows us to unclench deep gripping in the thighs, groins, pelvis, and belly, releasing extra effort and constriction in the psoas and relieving tension in the abdomen, digestive system, and kidneys. It can be beneficial when we need to turn inward, such as during times of grief or depletion.”
To set up Surfboard, rest on a stack of folded blankets the way you would on a surfboard: Your pelvis, torso, and head should all be supported by the blankets, and the center of your kneecaps should rest on the ground. Then, bring the top of your feet onto a rolled blanket and turn your head to one side, with one cheek on your blanket and your arms on the ground in the shape of a cactus. Every few minutes, turn your head to rest on the opposite cheek. Or, if you have any neck issues, try to create a face-down variation. Let your whole body fall into the blankets by releasing any and all effort in your legs, belly, chest, and arms.
About the Author
Jennifer D’Angelo Friedman is a freelance writer and editor based in NYC. She has been a contributor to YogaJournal.com since 2013.