Learning to love the poses you hate

My friend Eduardo once jokingly remarked that all yoga poses that begin with the sound “oo” (“ou”) are ones that hurt. He enumerated them by emphasizing the painful “oo” sound, making the asanas sound like guttural exertions: oo-ttanasana, oo-strasana, oo-tkatasana, oo-pavistha konasana.

It made me laugh because every yoga practitioner has a handful poses that they don’t like. For me, that pose is virasana and its reclined evil twin, supta virasana. When I know we are going to do either of those poses, my system accelerates into fight-or-flight overdrive, and I spend the duration of the pose more focused on my chatty brain/monkey mind and hyperactive nervous system than on assimilating the pose’s rewards. That frog’s alarmed expression? I know it well.

A teacher of mine refers to the poses we secretly hate as “bathroom break” poses because whenever they come up in class, some of us—ahem—develop an urgent need to pee. “Virasana? I can’t do virasana in my condition! I really must go to the bathroom.” In these instances, the real yoga is not the pose itself; it’s examining the trigger to the pose and figuring out why you’re reacting the way you’re reacting.

Some tips for making peace with the poses you hate:

• If the pose is uncomfortable, use props. Yoga is not supposed to hurt! Ask your teacher for advice.

• Does the pose scare you? Approach it incrementally by doing less-scary or prep variations. Ask your teacher for modifications.

• Are you worried about doing the pose wrong or looking foolish? Be lighthearted. Yoga is not a test.

• Lather, rinse, repeat.

• Lather, rinse, repeat.

• Lather, rinse, repeat. 

Asanas that cause you to look for the nearest exit are the ones you need the most. On the physical level, those yoga poses address an imbalance in your body and on the mental level, they help you cultivate composure during a challenge. I can do virasana without panicking now, thanks to intelligent prop usage. Sitting up on a rolled-up blanket, I’m finally able to experience some of the pose’s profound benefits with less physical and internal turmoil. It’s still not my most favorite pose but I am learning to respect it without cursing.

How about you? Is there a pose you hate? Have you made peace with it? Or is it still a struggle?

—Martine