I have a very long list of yoga postures that I do not love. With time, however, that list has gotten shorter. What's helped me shorten that list? I gave myself permission to experiment and actually play with the alignment of my postures. For so long, especially in the beginning of my practice, I was simply doing what the teacher instructed me to do. Rarely did I actually take the time to investigate how the postures felt for me both physically and mentally.
Yoga postures have a general shape. Based on human biomechanics there's standard alignment cues that can get a body into a yoga posture, however every body is different. I've said it many times in my group classes and I'll continue to say it, this is not a one-size-fits all practice. What works for me may not work for you. In order for this to be a practice that serves you both physically and mentally you have to be willing to experiment and explore.
Take Wheel Pose, for example. Wheel has always been a posture I could get into, but it never felt great. My body did the shape and that was satisfying enough for the first few years of my practice. When I was setting up my Wheel Pose in the early years I did what most of my teachers told me to do. Point your fingers toward the front edge of your mat. Keep your feet parallel to each other. I would push on up and simply suffer through the five to ten breaths. But I did the pose! And that's what yoga is all about right? (Sarcasm is not well communicated through this medium. Just so that we're on the same page, yoga is not all about getting into the pose.)
With time I got smarter. With time I realized not all cues that a teacher provides are ideal for my body. I was also very lucky to find a teacher who opened my eyes to the wide range of alignment for all yoga postures. Now my Wheel Pose consists of fingers angled outward and sometimes my toes are angled outward depending on the state of my knees and low back on that specific day.
Often when a student tells me they dislike a posture it's because they're working with alignment that just doesn't suit their body. Most students are just being good students and doing as their teacher tells them without realizing their yoga mat is a space for experimentation and play. Triangle Pose is a common thorn in a yogi's side. Considering the posture shows up in most vinyasa-style yoga classes, it's kind of remarkable how frequently students tell me they don't like Triangle Pose. I, too, did not like Triangle Pose for the first few years of my yoga practice. Now I LOVE Triangle Pose! I now love the pose because I gave myself permission to actually explore my physical and mental states while in the posture and adjust the posture accordingly.
If you want some insight, here's how I work Triangle Pose and some adjustments I've made over the years:
My approach to Triangle Pose required lots of experimentation that stemmed from my teacher's guidance. But before the experiments could even begin I had to cultivate deep awareness of my physical and mental states. This deep awareness was missing in the early days of my practice. I had to be open to actually experience the various physical and mental sensations of the practice and not just go through the motions. Awareness, in my opinion, is the essence of this practice. It just took me some time to figure it out. Through my awareness I was able to make small adjustments to the physical postures and investigate how the shifts affected me physically and mentally. It's simply a trial and error process.
Yoga sutra 2.46, sthira sukham asanam, states that asana, the physical yoga practice. must have the balance of effort and ease, alertness and relaxation, steadiness and comfort. Sutra 2.47, prayatna shaitilyananta sama pattibhyam, then follows up that the balance of effort and ease can only be achieved through observing the the reactions of the body, mind, and breath. Observation and awareness allows the practitioner to then merge with their focal point, the infinite, their deeper self, their intention. Bringing awareness to your hips in Warrior II isn't the end of the journey. That deep awareness of your physical state in Warrior II then leads to deeper awareness of your mental sensations, your connection to others, your relationship with something greater than yourself.
In closing, I'm not encouraging you to disregard your teacher and their guidance. When you take a group yoga class you are there to take the seat as a student and learn something. Within the parameters of what your teacher has to offer you in a group setting also allow yourself to explore your own individual practice. There's no user manual to this yoga thing. There's just the mental, physical, and emotional sensations that arise which will then inform your practice.
Looking for a way to tap into those deeper sensations? Come hang out with me September 21-23, 2018 to experience a weekend along Minnesota's North Shore for my Fall Into Your Practice retreat. My hope is for the weekend to set the groundwork for you to feel a deeper connection to your practice and yourself.