Is there a pose that you would love to be able to do? Do you find yourself enviously watching YouTube videos of toned Ashtanga warriors effortlessly doing the Advanced A series?
Or you might have a nemesis pose that you just can’t beat. It might be as simple as padmasana (lotus pose). I say ‘simple’…but in reality, there’s no such thing as a simple yoga pose.
As yoga practitioners, part of what keeps us coming back for more is the allure of ‘cracking’ a pose we once thought impossible. It also gives us an incentive for getting on the mat as often as we can to keep up our physical practice.
So what is the best way to go about achieving your dream pose – without ending up in A&E?
Identify the pose
There might be many poses you aspire to do, but it helps to narrow the field. First of all, choose one pose that you feel you could only achieve in your dreams. For me, it used to be handstand. When I first started doing yoga I had never managed to do a handstand without someone picking my legs up and holding them against the wall. Growing up, I hadn’t been one of those gymnastic children that could spring about doing cartwheels all over the place. Handstands were just something other people could do. Handstand became my dream pose.
Dare to Dream
Like handstand for me, perhaps there’s a pose that you’d love to be able to do, but assume that you’ll never achieve it in this lifetime. But why not? What’s stopping you? The usual answer is, ‘well, my body just couldn’t do that’. But if you think back to the beginning of your yoga journey, remember how far you’ve come already! Perhaps you weren’t able to touch your toes, and now you can get your hands flat on the floor. If your body can change that much, then the possibilities are endless and it’s only your head that’s getting in the way.
Imagine Yourself In the Pose
Have a look at the pose and imagine you’re doing it. See yourself in the pose and then imagine how you’ll feel when you’ve done it. Awesome – right? If we can visualise ourselves in the pose we make it more real, by tricking the mind into thinking we can already do it.
Break it Down
The secret to achieving any yoga pose is in the discipline of yoga itself. Beginners start by mastering the basics, such as the standing poses or the sun salutation. Within these poses are the building blocks of all the advanced poses. So if you want to be able to drop back into urdhva dhanurasana you need to practise all the poses that come before it, for example, virabhadrasna 1 (warrior 1), virasana (hero pose) and dhanurasana, (bow pose) which lengthen and strengthen the front of the thighs.
Break down your dream pose into its component parts and start by practicing those. Aim for perfection but be content with a little progress every day.
Practice Makes Perfect
When I was aiming to kick up into handstand unaided I practised downward dog, then moving forwards and shifting the weight onto my hands and arms. Then I practised kicking up against the wall ten times in a row. I did this for quite a few months until one day both my legs ended up against the wall.
The only way we can progress is through disciplined practise. We need to have faith that even if we can’t do something today, by putting in the practice we will get there one day. We need to have the tenacity to keep a firm hold on our goal and the perseverance to stick with it. With these characteristics, we will get to our yoga goal.
Patience is a virtue worth having in yoga. We don’t become advanced yogis overnight. It takes years, even decades, of dedicated practice on the mat. But that doesn’t mean to say that you can’t achieve a pose you never thought possible.
However, don’t be tempted to skip the slow build up to a difficult pose, because down that road lies injury. B.K.S. Iyengar says that:
“Overstretching occurs when one loses contact with one’s center … instead, the ego wants simply to stretch further, to reach the floor, regardless of its ability.”
The repeated practice of a pose needs to be done with the restraining balance of intelligence. If you have an injury or a weakness it’s worth bearing that in mind. It might be that the final pose is simply too dangerous for you to achieve. But there might be a way of getting to a variation of the final pose using props.
…But also Feel the Fear and DO IT ANYWAY
Having made friends with handstands, my new goal is to be able to do a free-standing handstand away from the wall. This step away from the security of the wall is frightening. Fear is a powerful emotion that holds us back from taking risks, that paralyses us and whispers in our ear that we should stay in our comfort zone. B.K.S. Iyengar tells a story of a student who was afraid of doing headstand. Iyengar’s characteristic response was to shout:
“Forget about fear. You may only fall on the floor, not beyond. In the future there is fear. In the present there is no fear.”
So what’s there to be scared of? If you’re frightened of falling then position yourself near a soft landing, such as a bed or sofa, or pile blankets around you.
You’ve set your sights on a dream pose. You planned how to get there and practised like mad. Finally, you achieved your dream pose! And then you promptly moved on to the next impossible pose. Don’t forget to take a moment to celebrate your achievement. It’s easy to constantly look forward to the next goal, but it’s also important to recognise your own achievements, however relatively small they might be.