Do you have a least-favorite pose? Or worse, one that you actively hate and avoid at all costs? Or that you cringe when I or your teacher guides it in class? If so, consider yourself normal. If you don’t, consider yourself a deep and experienced yogini or yogi… or just in denial 😮
If you have a least-favorite or most-hated pose, I’ll encourage not taking the path of least resistance and just not doing it but instead taking the opposite approach: consciously and purposely practicing the pose, daily if possible but at least a couple or few times a week. From experience, this is not necessarily a “fun” or “exciting” or “joyful” or “glamorous” discipline to undertake, but the payoff is so great, that if you don’t do it, I think you are really only cheating yourself through the indulgence of weakness. And yes, I do know that sometimes, there are very real reasons that you truly shouldn’t be doing that pose, and then, of course, DON’T DO IT. For all other reasons, definitely do.
As I’m rereading highlights from Joel Kramer’s Yoga as Self-Transformation, this week’s reading includes discussion of the two personality types in yoga: the “pusher” and the “sensualist.” I do recognize that my suggesting to do your least favorite pose is a pusher thing and something the pure sensualist will never do. Since you are reading this article, I’m assuming that you are a pusher, or at least a sensualist with some curiosity about it. If you’re a pusher, then you might actually do it. If you’re just curious or interested in the idea, trying it just once or twice or for a week can be a good way to begin. Remember, what I’m suggesting is that YOU, self-decided, do this, FOR YOU! You’re not doing it for me or for your partner or for your kids and definitely not for your parents. If you’re going to do it, especially if you have resistance to it, starting it on a trial basis with a definite ending/re-evaluation point may be a good idea.
In ancient history, the first time I found a pose that I really didn’t like was after daily practice of 2 1/2 years without a teacher doing poses that just felt good (my “sensualist” phase 🙂). I had been living at the end of nowhere in Washington state where there were no yoga teachers in the late 80’s and had learned yoga from a book. It was all fairly basic stuff and I did what it said, but it wan’t very challenging. Then I met my first teacher who (inconveniently, but thankfully) led poses that I didn’t always like, crescent moon being the first that I felt actual aversion toward. Even seemingly innocuous poses can be hated by a person.
She was leading me in a private class once a week and I was still practicing daily on my own the rest of the week. The spiritual training that I had had up to that point had stressed “face your fear,” so I decided that I should do just that and do the pose every day in my practice. I did that and much to my surprise, within a couple months, what had been my most-hated pose had transformed into my favorite pose! Since that time, and since taking on this discipline a number of times over the decades, I have seen this phenomenon recur again and again, in my own practice and many others have told me of observing the same thing happen in their personal practices: disliked poses becoming at least A favorite if not THE favorite pose. There really IS something to it!
After a few years of practice of poses that I didn’t like (as well as ones I liked, of course), one of my teachers in a teacher training was asked if that phenomenon of least-favorites becoming most-favorite occurred with the chair pose also, which he had admitted was his least favorite pose and which was the most-hated of the questioner. He humorously told us that he had been doing it daily for about 5 years and it hadn’t happened yet, but that he was continuing. So it may not be guaranteed.
However, I am a little surprised by that and believe now that it may have been his approach that was the issue, not the actual pose. For full-disclosure and for a bigger picture though, at the same time I that was exploring crescent moon, there was another pose that I truly hated, locust pose, that I was simply unable to commit to doing every day. Once or twice a week was as much as I could handle, it was so emotionally painful. The emotional impact of it was so intense that about a year later when I was in a short Bikram yoga phase, practicing daily with a group of folks at 6am. I would wake to my alarm and the first thought in my mind was, day after day, a horrified, “I have to do locust pose in an hour.” (That pose being one in the specific sequence we were practicing.)
Over years of practice, that pose has become one of my 10 favorite poses, NOT because it feels good and pleasurable but because I continue to get so much out of it, even decades later. About 5 years ago, I committed to doing it daily for a year and have kept it up since then, and it continues to amaze and interest me. I feel that I’m barely scratching the surface with it, and it is so different on different days. I have never grown bored of any pose, but this one especially continues to inspire and interest, as challenging and confronting as it is. (And there are those who outwardly do this pose WAY better than I do or have ever done!)
This particular pose, locust, today on the Soltice, is the main reason for this article at this time. After coming out of the pose and while having an spontaneous and uncontrollable intense cry, something that used to happen EVERY SINGLE TIME but hasn’t happened in many months, I was calmly watching, lovingly present with what was happening in my body and emotions, completely at peace in the moment of emotional upheaval, and the thought was there, “I no longer fear the effects of this pose.” THAT’S why I’m writing this: though the pose still sometimes has the same “outward” effect that it did 27 years ago, the inner experience is SO different. That is even more inspiring to me than it had become my most-liked, or most yummy pose.
So please, if you are a serious yoga practitioner, please, if you haven’t already taken the discipline of purposefully, safely and lovingly meeting yourself in your least-favorite poses on a regular basis, begin the exploration now. It’s NOT a discipline to do because you hate yourself! Don’t do it if that’s your motivation. It’s a discipline to undertake because you LOVE yourself and trust that the pose actually holds a beautiful gem for you. It will take you beyond your little sense of yourself in some way. As mentioned above, this is the definite experience of me and many of my teachers and students over the years. If you do take this on, make sure that you are not hurting your body (you’ll know!), and if you are not, trust that practicing it is worth it. (And if you need additional inspiration, information and guidance before beginning, yes, this is the time of year for my Independence Day class when everyone tells me their least favorite poses and I guide them all.) Ultimately, where this practice leads is to have no least-favorite poses; they are all enjoyed equally and experienced and valued for what they are in the moment, without attraction or aversion for them.
Also consider the possibility that this practice can be taken OFF the mat, by purposely doing and approaching things, situations, people, etc. that we might otherwise avoid. That’s a powerful and transformative practice as well, but is another LONG article, maybe for another time, though you can definitely begin that now as well. Peace be with you. 🙏🏽