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September 10, 2016

Learning to Love those Yoga Poses we Hate.

courtesy of author, Cara Fraser

Is there a yoga pose you absolutely hate? Have you ever thought about why? Have you ever considered that you could actually like, or even love that pose?

What if, instead of walking away from our challenges, we faced them head-on and saw our practice grow and our perspective change?

When I first started taking yoga, I absolutely hated dolphin pose (think downward facing dog on the forearms, rather than the hands). I could never hold it as long as the teacher asked and would get extremely frustrated; however, as I developed strength in my shoulders, I was able to hold it for longer and longer. Believe it or not, dolphin is now one of my favorite poses, because it is a reminder of how much stronger I have become through regular practice.

Recently, I heard that a fellow yoga teacher had developed a class around her students’ least favorite poses, which intrigued me. So, I took a poll of my yoga students to learn their favorite and least favorite poses. Not knowing what I would find, I set out with the idea of developing a class around the answers.

Before I even sat down to write the sequence, I learned a lot from how my students reacted to the question. I asked them to write their favorite and least favorite pose on a note card, and I quickly learned that my students are overachievers! They wanted to do the assignment correctly, so they asked lots of questions and gave lots of thought to the answers.

I had no idea that the question would be so difficult, because I could answer it in seconds. My favorite is a tie between savasana (lying flat on the back) and handstand; my least favorite is chair. Many students asked if they should write a least favorite pose that they dislike but know is good for them. They clearly understand the benefit of practicing difficult poses that can help them grow. The discussion surrounding my poll eventually became a class theme.

Several things stood out as I began compiling the answers:

Most people do not like poses that they are not able to do (i.e. arm balances, inversions, other advanced postures).

This is pretty obvious, but people approach this differently. Some people choose to avoid these poses altogether, while others face them head-on. The only way to learn a challenging pose is to try it many times. The more we practice, the stronger and more flexible we become, until one day the pose just happens. Shying away from the challenge is a missed opportunity to know our own strength and potential—not only on the mat, but in life too.

For more advanced poses, I encourage people to attend workshops where the poses are explained in more detail. I also encourage people to take a lot of classes and find a teacher they like who really breaks down poses. A good teacher observes students and sees when they could benefit from breaking down a pose, rather than just cuing the name and then moving on.

People do not like poses that do not feel good, whether they’re dealing with an injury or inflexibility.

Historically, I have not liked backbends, because I’ve had some minor back problems in the past. For example, I didn’t like heart openers in which I lay back on yoga blocks under my upper back and head. but the more I learned about anatomy and how to use props, the more I stretched and strengthened the necessary parts of my body to facilitate backbends. I am not going to lie and say I am now the best at backbends, but I am able to do things that I couldn’t in the past. This has taken commitment and work; it did not just happen overnight. This slow process has helped me to stay dedicated when poses are difficult—and it has helped my back to heal over time.

For people who have pain while in yoga class, I recommend taking some private classes with a certified yoga instructor who can give modifications and tips to help alleviate discomfort during group classes. If this is not enough to assist with any issues, one should seek advice from a medical professional.

One person’s favorite pose is another’s least favorite.

Each of us comes to the mat with our strengths and challenges. People who are flexible struggle to build strength, while people who are strong try hard to build flexibility. Being a teacher has helped me see that anyone can improve weaknesses through consistent practice. However, it’s easy to gravitate toward poses that come naturally. Hyper flexible people are drawn to yin classes, when they really need to develop more strength to stabilize their joints.

I encourage people to try different types of classes and teachers in order to be exposed to many kinds of movement and build strength and flexibility. Getting into a set routine is easy. Sometimes we stick with the same teacher or class because the timing just works with our schedule. But sometimes we fall into a rut and need to consciously break out of it to keep challenging ourselves to enhance our strengths and face our challenges.

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Author: Cara Fraser

Image: Author’s Own

Editor: Toby Israel

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