4 steps for tackling a difficult pose

We asked Olav Aarts for some advice about what to do when faced with a difficult pose in a yoga class.

Olav Aarts

No matter who you are and how long you鈥檝e practised yoga there will always be a pose that challenges you – and that鈥檚 a good thing! Yoga is not about being able to do everything perfectly straight away. Where would be the fun in that?

Yoga is not about touching your toes. It’s about what you learn on the way down.

Your 鈥淒ifficult Pose鈥 doesn鈥檛 necessarily have to be an advanced-level or super complicated pose. It could be a simple pose that is hard for your body type. Very strong people can have tight muscles as a result and have trouble with touching the toes. Or maybe if you鈥檙e naturally flexible, poses that require strength can be hard for you.

So whatever your difficult pose is, when it comes up in the class what can you do to keep yourself from giving up?

1. Overcoming the first barrier – The “I can’t” mindset

What I’ve learned is that the most important obstacle to an asana is our mindset. We think “well I’m not able to do it” without even giving it a try. So when you are able to overcome that sense of “I’m not able to do it鈥 or 鈥淚 will never do it”, the most difficult barrier is breached. This is the most important step. When you’ve taken that step after that it’s easy peasy!

2. Make mistakes

The next thing I do when I鈥檓 faced with a complicated pose is I just try the pose – and fail – utterly and terribly!

So try and fail. Why is failure good? Well, because you learn from it.
You learn your weak points, where you lack attention and so on.
So go for it – go full frontal and face it鈥nd fail. Do it a couple of times – It鈥檚 wonderful and it will also make you humble.

3. Break the pose down

The next thing I do is break the pose down. I look at the pose and see what it鈥檚 made up of – if it is a combination of perhaps a forward bend and a twist.
Then I isolate those elements, so just do the forward bend of the asana or the twist of the asana and try to combine those elements gradually, bit by bit, part by part – like Lego.
So you break down the asana and build it up again until the pose becomes more accessible to you. If you try it all at once it can be too much information for the body. Just start with little steps until you are ready for it.

4. What if it鈥檚 just not happening today?

What if you鈥檙e following a class and some of the poses aren鈥檛 accessible – what can you do instead of that pose?

If a pose is too much of a challenge for any reason whatsoever – maybe a medical reason or whatever it is, just do something – anything. Don鈥檛 say to yourself 鈥淚 can鈥檛 do this鈥 and consequently, do nothing. There鈥檚 always something you are able to do in a pose. For example if it鈥檚 a forward bend pose, even if you are just folding forward two inches you are still doing something. Because the most important thing is not the asana itself nor its complexity, it鈥檚 the willingness to try and explore what works for you. So even if it鈥檚 just a fraction of a pose, that’s fine. You鈥檝e kept the essence of the asana, you鈥檙e willing to explore something of yourself. At least that’s what I think!

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