We've all heard the adage that the poses we hate the most are the ones we need the most. As Kim Manfredi told my class in yoga teacher training, personal practice can't be all about pleasure - we have to find a balance between effort and ease, between attraction and aversion.
Well, I don't know if it's the years of running, childhood soccer drills, or spending 50 hours a week in the driver seat and a desk chair, but I am -- to put it diplomatically -- particularly averse to forward folds. They. Are. Suffering. Incarnate. Take padangustasana, for example.
- Let's start at the base: my thumbnails feel WEIRD when they're under my toes, wrapping my forefingers, and pressing down into my mat. Weird, I say! I am averse to this pose!
- My hamstrings are stiff and I must bend my knees while my classmates seem to effortlessly fold in half with their legs straight. WHAT?! HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?
- As a result of keeping my legs bent for the full five breaths (or more, if the teacher is a complete monster/war criminal), my quads start to cramp up.
- The teacher is saying something about how forward folds are supposed to be relaxing. News to me!
- After five breaths here, you want me to do padahastasana? With no break in between? Really!? And then you're going to expect me to do chair pose later?!
Around breath 3 my inner monologue starts to sound like this:
"Obviously, I must breathe. I'm breathing but my quads still feel like they're in the vice grip of some kind of demented hyena's jaws. Why is this so hard? It's literally holding still while you make peace fingers and touch your toes. What's the big deal? A baby could do this, Liz! A BABY COULD DO THIS. Oh no, I'm not breathing. I'm going to fall down now. This is the biggest mistake of my life."
Fortunately, I was recently introduced to the magic of assisted standing forward folds. A relatively simple assist from a fellow teacher trainee suddenly made the pose completely bearable. I was still working hard and not at all close to the full expression of the pose, but some of the tension lifted out of my quadriceps and I felt safer. My hips felt looser, my lower back pain dissipated, and I suddenly felt like 5 breaths wasn't actually so unreasonable!
Don't get me wrong - this pose did not magically become my favorite. I'm still tempted to rush through it in my personal practice. I still grumble inwardly when a teacher cues it in class. But at least now I know I have the potential to feel a little better in it than I do today -- and maybe next time, I'll have someone helping me out.
I was reminded of how even the most unpleasant task can be made bearable with good company. Going to the DMV to renew your license is torture. But if you have a good friend along, it's somehow not so terrible. Going to the dry cleaner? It's the boring-est of boring. But if you bring your dog along for the ride, suddenly it's a little more like a fun outing.
When I'm not lucky enough to have a yoga teacher helping out with my most dreaded pose, I can draw from the positive energy in the room. Instead of getting annoyed with the student who seems to be holding the pose effortlessly and without any pain, I can be happy for their (perceived) ease and try to emulate it. Instead of cursing the teacher in my mind for making me hold chair pose for 5 breaths after we've already done countless lunges, I'm going to try to see the positive in the pose and, most importantly, the potential for growth.
What about you: what is your least favorite pose?