Every morning, I kick my pre-work/get-ready routine off with a 20 minute morning yoga DVD. Yoga Journal's "Yoga for Morning, Noon, and Night". It is as necessary to my morning as brushing my teeth or making coffee. The morning sequence is relatively easy, however, every time we move into tree pose, a simple one-leg balance, my urge to grab the remote and fast-forward is overwhelming. When I first began integrating a little bit of yoga into my morning, I skipped this asana every time. I thought to myself that the sun salutation inspired flow would be better off without tree pose. I thought I didn't need to "push" myself because this was yoga — not Pilates or P90X. This was my irrational rationalization.
The more thought I put into my simple, knee-jerk reaction to fast-forward, the more I began to see the error of my ways. It was the mornings that I felt lousy -- maybe I was feeling a little bit under the weather, lazy, uninspired, angsty … these were the days I found myself breaking my concentration to go rogue, picking up the remote. I started to explore my feelings around tree pose, dissecting why I held an intense aversion to this simple pose, a pose that is a staple in most classes and yet a nemesis to my self-esteem. I have terrible balance. This pose is so simple that it exemplifies just how off I can be on my mat. My balance is not up to par with the rest of my practice: good alignment and excellent flexibility. But balance? I can't seem to get it. I think that I began to write off mastering even a decent level of balance from my practice altogether. One day, I wrote about my balance problems in a blog that I shared on my facebook page. My friend commented "you will find it". These four simple words had me re-evaluating my practice. I learned about drishti, a gazing technique that emphasizes the importance of control and attention through staring at one stable spot or image in your central vision. I stopped skipping tree pose. After all, it was one of the simplest and most basic balancing postures, and what better place to "embarrass" myself than the privacy of my bedroom. I will find it. I found myself feeling more complete and whole when I didn't avoid the pose. It actually boosted my confidence, because I assumed that I wouldn't be able to balance without falling out of the pose. On the days I could make it through without clumsily and desperately wobbling around or falling down, I felt accomplished. These days started to become more regular than irregular. One day, I found it.
I still dislike tree pose. I still fall out of it. But has my balanced improved significantly? Yes. I brought this theory to the attention of some of my fellow yogis and instructors. What did they find important about sticking it out in poses they disliked?
"I like to look at this on the bright side," said Natalie Gianninoto, yogi fanatic and co-director of Project Yoga Richmond. "My favorite poses are the ones that my mind and body succeed at. When I succeed physically and mentally, I am satisfied. So it's important to practice the poses that I dislike because they are exactly what I need. For example, it could be improving a physical imbalance or a breaking through a mental wall. I do this by observing the chatter in my mind when I want to brush off a pose as "too hard". Practicing the poses you'd rather avoid builds strength and confidence as you progress in your practice. The poses empower you and in the end, you've taken time to be with yourself; growth!"
My friend Michelle Lee Landon, RYT-200 and instructor at Shockoe Slip Yoga in Richmond, VA, had a similar experience with pigeon pose as I had with tree pose.
"I have found in my own practice that the poses I tend to avoid are the ones that I need the most," she said. "For example, in the early years of my practice, I HATED it when we got to pigeon pose in class. It was uncomfortable, my hips were off balanced, I couldn't figure out how to let go in the pose and it didn't make sense to me. Sometimes I would avoid it all together! I found myself moving around in it a lot and counting the seconds until it was over. The more I practiced pigeon pose, and the more my hips began to open and I began release physically, I noticed that I started to have an release emotionally as well. I found myself finally being able to surrender completely in the moment -- breathing in and letting go. We carry a lot of emotional tension in the connective tissue in our hips and the more time we spend opening them, the more things may bubble up for us emotionally. If we can commit to staying in the pose, in that moment and with our breath, the more we are are able to fully surrender and deal with whatever may bubble up for us emotionally. There have been times where I have been moved to tears because I've had such an emotional release. It was fear and something else in my subconsciousness that was keeping me from practicing pigeon. A lot of times the reason we may dislike a pose, is simply out of fear. Fear of falling, fear of the unknown, fear of getting our egos bruised... I believe in doing one thing a day that scares you. For years I avoided even trying to do a headstand, always having an excuse as to why I couldn't. Then one day I decided to face my fear head on and try it. There is no greater feeling and then facing a fear head on. It builds confidence. I have noticed in my own life that my lack of confidence on the mat sometimes correlates to a lack of confidence in an area of my life off the mat. If you are avoiding a pose for any reason other than an injury, you might want to take a look at your life and see if there might be something else, something bigger, holding you back....Fear, your ego, emotional build up you are avoiding dealing with...my practice on the mat often mirrors my life off the mat."
Confidence. Emotional release. Improved balance, alignment or flexibility. Good things come from those who practice through their aversions. What is your least favorite pose? Think to yourself: why is it that you dislike this pose? Many times, in cases like my own, one's dislike of a pose comes from the inability to master or complete it. Checking your ego can be a blessing here. Like they say, practice makes perfect; and you can't be perfect unless you practice. But you are not defined by your ability or inability to perform. It simply is what it is. So let go and give into the struggle. Your practice will thank you!
Share your comments below...