We know that yoga isn’t just about poses. Asana is only one-eighth of the whole practice, after all. But we’ve all come across a pose on the mat that has been particularly challenging, scary, perplexing or just plain uncomfortable.
Indeed, I have a running inventory of poses that make up a kind of sh*t list (if I’m being honest, which I am). Whenever I encounter these, I either have to stop gritting my teeth or I seriously think about dropping into Child’s pose until it’s all over.
My Struggle With Extended Triangle
Yet, over the years, I’ve also been grateful and surprised that some of the poses on this list do come off of it, too. For example, Extended Triangle (Utthita Trikonasana) was a pose that continually baffled me. I felt so awkward in it and would ask questions like: “Where the hell should I put my arm/shoulder? Why does my back hurt? How long do I have to be here?”
Triangle became a nemesis, but seeing as it is a fairly common pose in many classes, I needed to make peace with it somehow. Thankfully, after some much-appreciated guidance from some teachers (including taking cues from my body), I started to chip away some of the obstacles surrounding this pose until it finally dropped from the sh*t list. Hallelujah!
If you find yourself butting heads with a pose or two, here are a few tips that might help you master them, too. Hint: the journey is not as straightforward as you might think.
1. Master The Basics First
You can practice other simpler poses that strengthen or open the same key areas that your challenge pose highlights. For example, if your nemesis is Headstand (Salamba Sirsasana), you could develop strength and deeper body awareness through balancing and standing poses, and you might also prep with poses like Forearm Plank and Dolphin Pose (Makarasana) until you become stronger and more comfortable with them.
Feel free to ask your teacher for some ideas on preparatory poses that might help you approach your nemesis with more information.
2. Be Patient, Yet Courageous
When you encounter your current nemesis on the mat, as tempting as it might be to wave a white flag, try not to immediately duck into Child’s Pose unless you truly need to rest. Instead, aim to listen to the instructions the teacher offers about each pose, and try to learn more about the mechanics to break down and demystify the pose for you.
You can also attempt more basic variations of the pose until you’re ready to try the full expression. With the same Headstand example, you could practice by walking from Forearm Plank to Dolphin Pose and back again to develop similar actions and strength needed in the shoulders, core and legs in Headstand. Your teacher(s) will also have suggestions for these helpful variations, too.
3. Dedicate Yourself, But Don’t Obsess
When you devote yourself to chipping the obstacles away, a pose can become that much more familiar and accessible; however, it doesn’t hurt to remember that yoga is not just about one pose. It’s more about the journey and the skills you learn when faced with challenges whether facing a pose, a project at work or an issue at home. Work to cultivate a balance between commitment and obsession so that it doesn’t become a grueling journey.
4. Get Some Perspective
Try other activities that could help inform your mat time. Create an opportunity to engage in other activities to give your brain and body a break from one project. This can offer some much needed distance and freedom so that when you return to your last draft on the mat, you approach it with fresh insight and more informed body.
Be Prepared For Some Enlightenment
Now here’s the rub: Mastering a pose will only be a part of the grand picture in the end. These tips will not necessarily guarantee you will be on the cover of a yoga magazine, modeling all your challenge poses. That’s not the point AT ALL.
Rather, when you take the time and develop the dedication to practice you actually learn more about yourself. Then you’ve mastered your nemesis with one heck of a karate chop!