“If we do chair pose one more time I’m going to scream!” Have you ever had thoughts like these during your yoga practice? If so, you’re not alone. I have too, and so has every teacher I know and every student I’ve taught. It seems we all have at least one yoga pose we simply can’t stand. But in my experience, it’s how we deal with those difficult yoga poses that sets us apart from one another.
There are several ways to cope when facing tough yoga poses: We can avoid them entirely, resist against them, or relax into them. When you avoid poses that challenge you, you’re not allowing yourself to grow in your practice. And when you hold onto anger and frustration as you practice tough poses, that tension will prevent you from being fully present with your breath and movements, and you might even injure yourself.
The best way to deal with difficult asanas is to let go of your resistance to them. Through my many years teaching and practicing yoga I’ve found four practical and effective ways to work through difficult yoga poses.
1. Breathe Through It
There is a certain confidence and sense of achievement that comes with staring down the poses you hate and staying with them anyway. If you can make it through a few breaths in a difficult pose, you can make it through anything. In stressful and challenging situations, it’s common to hold our breath or to take quick, shallow breaths. Instead, when you’re in a hard pose, tune into your breath, slow it down, and stay connected.
2. Try, Try Again
We tend to hate the poses we find hard or uncomfortable. The best way to become stronger or more open in any pose is to practice it often. Make a commitment to practice your most hated poses regularly and to be guided by your breath when you do.
3. Build Up to Tough Poses
Sometimes our anatomy is what limits us in certain poses. We might feel tension, stretching in our soft tissues, or compression—the sensation of being stuck or jammed. While compression isn’t necessarily bad, it serves as a good signal to let go of the ‘perfect’ expression of the pose.
In the face of physical discomfort, back off a little. Introduce modifications or yoga props, try some preparatory or strengthening poses until you’re ready for the full expression of the pose, or just focus on the energetic aspects of the pose rather than the physical ones.
4. Learn From Your Resistance
Have you ever taken a yoga class and experienced an emotional release that caused you to cry or become upset? Our bodies store unexpressed emotions and trauma that we’ve been suppressing, and yoga tends to open us up and shine a spotlight on what we’ve hidden inside.
Uncovering these hidden emotions and triggers can be intense and uncomfortable, but can also set us on the path toward healing. When a difficult asana shines a light on a hidden issue, make a mental note of it, finish your practice, and you can work to address it once you step off the mat.
Remember, yoga is about getting to know yourself physically and mentally. Instead of letting resistance hold you back, use it as a tool to propel you forward. Understand your body’s limits and work backward, maybe using props and preparatory poses to find a different path. Look inside to understand whether your frustration with a certain pose is due to trauma or another hidden emotional issue. Find peace in surrender, and accept what your least favorite poses are trying to teach you.