The Art of Practice: Being in a Pose Isn’t Yoga

Stumped by Cirque Du Soleil-esque yoga postures and the fact that “normal” people practice them? It is ah-ok. Some poses take practice and patience, writes YogaU teacher Kristin Olson in this post. It’s not supposed to be easy. And therein lies the art of practice.

When I first started practicing, I used a videotape and then graduated to going to gyms or to Bikram. In all those settings, I never encountered arm balances, inversions or any deep backbend. It wasn’t until I started going to OM Yoga in New York City that I was aware these Cirque Du Soleil-esque postures existed and that “normal” people practiced them. Until then, my yoga practice was pretty basic: standing postures and sun salutes and some belly down backbends, which, by the way, is a great place to build strength and flexibility, so I’m not knocking those kinds of classes. They are crucial to any yoga practice and provide the exact body awareness we need to attempt the fancier, party trick poses we see in yoga clothing advertisements.

Unless you were a gymnast or a dancer, most people cannot just lift into an inversion or arm balance or bend into upward bow. These poses take practice and patience. It’s not supposed to be easy. In the beginning, I remember getting frustrated with how hard such a practice was. I vividly recall holding a lunge pose for what felt like at least twenty minutes and just as I was about to quit, the teacher said something about the whole class hating her for holding the pose so long. It was then that I realized this was hard for everyone, that yoga is supposed to be hard and challenging, and that the harder we work the less likely we are to think about dinner or the to-do list. We can escape the tedium of the monkey mind.

Of course, the more you practice the easier some poses get so this other group of frustrating poses is introduced. Again, I distinctly remember the thought pattern when I was first taught Pincha Mayurasana, forearm stand: “What the [bleep]. There is no way I can do that.” Yet, with practice and patience I figured it out. Sure, it helps that I’m on the more flexible side of things. For some, if both the shoulders and upper back are really tight, then a pose like Pincha may take years or even decades. On the flip side, if you’re too flexible it may take just as long to build the strength you need to support such a pose. But it’s the practice that is important, not the pose. Being in a pose isn’t yoga. It’s some hybrid of gymnastics and ballet. Keeping an even mind while you attempt the pose is yoga.

If you’ve ever been to a class I’ve taught, I’m sure you have heard me say many times that these poses are useful because they reveal things about ourselves. We can see how we approached a challenging pose and how we reacted to it. Were we competitive, angry, perfectionist, defeatist, fearful, fearless? Usually, these characteristics are prevalent in our life off the mat, too. So we can use them to learn about ourselves. Don’t lament if you weren’t ever a gymnast or ballerina, or don’t let whatever your bete-noir pose is get you down: the poses are simply a vehicle for self discovery. It’s svadhyaya, one of the five niyamas, which is defined by many as the study of the self, or the true nature of the self, self-reflection.

Reprinted with permission from Kristin’s webpage: 

Study with Kristin online! YogaU is proud to feature Kristin as part of our Yoga Practice Channel. Go here to see a list of her practices: YogaU Practice Channel/Kristin Olson

Kristin OlsonKristin Olson, E-RYT 500 is the owner of HOME Yoga in Andover, Mass., and has been teaching yoga since 2007 when she graduated from the prestigious YogaWorks teacher training under world renowned yoga instructor Natasha Rizopoulos’ tutelage. She has had the unique opportunity to assist Rizopoulos with her 200-hour yoga teacher trainings since 2009 as well as assist her at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. The intelligence of Kristin’s teaching and practice has earned her a reputation of being a teacher with great command of alignment, anatomy and philosophy. She truly believes our asana practice is a place where we can learn more about our true Self and hopes to inspire others to look beyond the physical benefits of yoga. Find her virtually on Instagram, at her website or on Facebook.

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