Practicing the pose(s) I really don’t like

For the first few years of my practice, I was mostly focusing on poses I enjoyed.  Initially I learned yoga from a book since I was VERY poor AND living at the “end of nowhere” on the Olympic Peninsula in western Washington- no yoga teachers, just loggers and “indians.”  I did a few challenging, strengthening poses, but mostly just stuff I liked to do, which was probably good and appropriate during that challenging time of initial healing and self-discovery.  After two and a half years of that, I met my first yoga teacher, who introduced me to what became my first “most-hated” pose-locust (shalabasana)-which one does lying belly-down with the arms under the body, lifting the legs… what’s not to not like?!  I couldn’t do the pose without sobbing for a few minutes every time I came out of it.  I figured there was something in it for me so kept practicing it, but though I was practicing daily, I could only do that pose a couple times a week since it was so emotionally painful for me.

After a year and a half of practice like that, I started doing Bikram yoga (for about 6 months, 5 times a week… yeah, I know it’s weird to think of me doing Bikram yoga.  I did stop because of a couple of really bad injuries facilitated by the intense heat and pushing in the poses.)  If you’ve ever done Bikram yoga, you know that locust is one of the poses in that series.  I would wake up at 5:30am in time to get to my friend’s home for practice beginning at 6am, and the first thought in my mind was a fearful, “I’m going to have to do locust in about an hour!”  It was still very emotionally painful, but I was still doing it and almost daily!

At some point, I decided to just be with it and I realized that what I hated about it was that in the pose I felt weak, and my underlying thought/feeling was “it’s not OK to feel weak.”  OK.  Once that became clear, I could just let myself feel weak and weakness in the pose without trying to run from it or fix it, just hold it in my loving awareness.  I still didm’t really like the pose, but the emotional reaction stopped being so intense, and it was no longer my most-hated pose.  And now, for the past year and a half, I have been again practicing it daily.  It now has no emotional charge but is just chock-full of richness for me, and I feel like there is so much more to get out of this difficult pose.

Mostly I share all this history to let you know that apparently disliking or even hating a pose(s) is normal AND something that we can potentially work with and learn from.  Everyone I know who has taken on the practice of purposely doing their least-liked pose says that at some point, it becomes their most favorite pose or at least it becomes a liked pose.  Locust was just the first of mine.  There were quite a few others over the years, and now I pretty much like them all equally.  I don’t think I would call locust my favorite pose, or was it ever, but it’s definitely in the top-10!, if I had to “grade” them!

If we can acknowledge the dislike, rather than running from it or justifying it or trying to fix it; if we choose instead to face it and be with it with compassion, love, sensitivity and discipline, we can learn from it and let the pose change US, rather than trying to enforce some change on IT.  And IT will change in the process, too.

All this history is also history for what has now been a yearly tradition for most of 2 decades, my Independence Day class in which everyone tells me their least favorite pose and we do them all.  This class IS NOT for everyone!  There have been a very few who came to this class not fully understanding what we were doing, though I do talk for a while about it at the beginning, and ended up never doing yoga again!  But for those who are strong enough in themselves and able to monitor their own inner experience, this has been a powerful time to share energy with others on a similar journey to face their own dislike and inner challenge to learn and grow and heal, and in VERY MANY cases, to get some understanding about what they didn’t like about the pose and in VERY MANY cases, get some help and insight from me about how to practice the pose in a way that was helpful and not hateful.  There are many who look forward to this class and attend every year, and there are a few who come only to this class all year.

Anyway, whether the idea of that class appeals to you or not, when people have a home practice, I always give the coaching to do at least one pose that you really like and at least one pose that you really don’t like each time you practice.  It’s worth it, again, not just in my experience but in the experience of many others, too.

May your practice continue to deepen and serve you well for many healthy years to come!

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