Fitness Magazine

Mixed Feelings About Yoga Poses

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina

Mixed Feelings About Yoga Poses

Crying Girl by Roy Lichtenstein

When I first started practicing yoga at home, I had no idea how to sequence poses. I mean, I had a basic idea that there was a warm up pose or two, then some standing poses, and then some seated poses (or backbends). But within those larger categories, I didn’t really know how to put the poses in order. So for my standing poses, what I would do—ssshh! true confession!—is alternate between poses that were difficult for me (I had some intuition that I should practice them so they would become easier for me—befriending them, you might say) and “treat” poses, the poses I always looked forward to and enjoyed doing. So there I was telling myself, okay, if you do a pose that’s hard for you (let’s say Extended Side Angle pose), then you get a little reward by doing a pose you really enjoy (let’s say Triangle pose).
These days, having completed a three-year teacher training program, not to mention having more than 20 years of practice under my belt, I know a lot more about how to sequence poses. However, I still find that I have a similar mix of feelings about the poses I practice. Various thoughts go through my mind as I move to the next one (or, if I’m in class, when my teacher announces the next one) from "uh-oh, not this one", to "oh, boy, my favorite!" As my practice has matured and my body has changed (there’s that bit of arthritis in my right hip), some of my attitudes toward particular poses have evolved, but there are still some poses I love, some I feel neutral about, and some that, well, are just not my favorites. Then, because our minds are a little quirky sometimes, I have other thoughts, too. One of the thoughts I often catch myself having always amuses me, and it goes something like “Whoa, I haven’t done that pose in so long it’s going to be so—wait—I think I actually did it yesterday!” Then I smile and think, “What’s that about?”
I’m telling you all of this because yesterday in her post When to Stop Practicing Yoga, Shari made reference to the “flurry of self-judgments and criticisms” we experience when doing yoga poses:
Each time we move into a yoga pose there are a flurry of self-judgments and criticisms—”Oh no, not this pose again, I can’t ever do this, I hate this…”—the internal psychological dialog can be unending. It takes a lot of mental discipline to quiet the mind to be fully in the asana. But then the actual physical body starts its own chorus of complaints—“This is making my knee hurt, or my back or my shoulder.” The mind can and does ignore a lot of this noise, “strong arming” the body into submission. But that cranky joint knows when to strike back and it often does. So, when should we listen to the body over the noise of the mind?
I don’t know about you, but this experience that Shari describes is one that I have had before. And I think she was writing this in the spirit of compassion for those who are struggling with chronic pain or fear of movement. However, I think it’s important to emphasize that there probably isn’t a flurry of self-judgments of and criticisms every time we move into every pose. Sometimes there is contentment and pleasure, maybe even joy. Some days practice is easier than it is on other days. And whether it’s a challenging pose like Headstand or a delicious restorative pose like Reclined Cobbler’s pose, just about everyone has some poses that they enjoy—and maybe even love—doing on a regular basis. And in my home practice, I still make sure to include some of my "treat" poses in every sequence that I do. In fact, it’s my love of the asana practice and the pleasure it brings me that has kept me for practicing for all these years. (Sometimes—another confession—I have so much fun during my practice, I dance around a little between the poses.)
So if you’re having negative thoughts about a pose, know you’re not alone. Be compassionate with yourself when you catch yourself doing it and try to be present in the pose. And, as Shari recommended, listen to your body to see if it’s trying to tell you something important. But also take the time to notice your positive thoughts and the enjoyment you take in certain poses (or maybe, at times, in all the poses). This will not only teach you about your mental habits but you’ll be learning about your particular body type and emotional temperament. It might even provide you with the information you need to make some of the poses you find difficult—and, trust me, everyone finds some poses difficult, though the particular poses people find difficult differ widely—easier and more enjoyable to practice.

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