Do you ever find yourself in yoga class struggling to maintain a pose, or to get into a pose, or to keep up the pace during flowing sequences? Do you notice your mind gets agitated with thoughts like, “Why can’t I just keep up,” “Will I ever be able to do this pose,” or “I’m just not cut out for this”?
First of all, you’re not alone—everyone experiences thoughts like these from time to time. As your practice progresses, you will experience good days along with occasional days you wish you had stayed in bed. The same goes for the asanas (postures)—some are exhilarating, some relaxing, and others downright bothersome. Indeed, the nature of your yoga practice mirrors the ups and downs of life itself. Luckily, on the mat we have some tools to help us ride these waves.
When you encounter challenging poses in yoga, the key is to familiarize yourself with your limits. When you know you have reached your limit—in which you still have some semblance of steadiness and a hint of ease (use your breath as the gauge)—honor that limit. Instead of trying to stay in a pose for longer than your composure allows, take a modification.
For example, if you have been in Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II) for a while and your arms are burning (or your shoulder is crying) you could bring your hands to your hips. If your legs are shaking and losing stability, you could straighten your legs. Or, if you can only hold Adha Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) for so long before your wrists feel the pain, take Balasana (Child’s Pose). In fact, take Child’s Pose any time at all. Even if everyone is standing in Tree Pose! If your body tells you it needs a rest, please listen to that—it’s the most important teacher of all.
If there is a particular pose that you find uncomfortable, pay attention to the cues your body is sending and modify the pose in a way that feels good to you. It’s OK if your pose doesn’t look like that of the person standing next to you. This is your practice, and the postures should fit your body, not your body to the postures. Take solace in the fact that you can play a little and make your practice your own. That is what yoga is all about.