This morning, on a whim, I decided to take a poll of my yoga-loving friends to see what their favorite yoga postures and least favorite yoga postures are. Knowing that yoga is an intensely personal, intensely subjective experience, the purpose of my asana inquisition was simply to gather information. Even before asking my questions, I understood that there were no right or wrong answers, that my friends’ opinions were entirely subjective. As a yoga teacher, experience has taught me a lot about how different our bodies are. While teaching a class, when I cue some poses (such as Double Pigeon), half of the class groans disgruntledly and the other half grins broadly. I don’t pretend to know why this is. I do know, however, that the more exposure I get to other people’s yogic experiences, the better I become at what I do and the more expansive my repertoire becomes both as a practicer and a practitioner of Emotional Yoga.
Back to my friends whom I am currently exploiting for my blogging practices. And, since I am already exploiting them, I will not add insult to injury by referring to them by name, but will make up imaginary names to protect their privacy.
My friend Mel, an Amazonian pregnant yoga teacher with arms and legs for days and a larger-than-life spirit responded immediately that her favorite has always been Goddess Pose.
“It’s strong and feminine,” she pointed out. “I feel both grounded and empowered when I’m in Goddess.”
I smiled. My own experience of Goddess Pose is of feeling worn out pretty quickly. My legs, while strong, tire easily when I access my own inner goddess. Perhaps this is a vestige of leftover self-esteem issues… Perhaps, my body simply isn’t built the same way as Mel’s. Whatever the case, she feels fully feminine, powerful and at home in the posture.
“My least favorite is Child’s Pose. It’s just not comfortable for me at all.”
Mel is a tall, statuesque, slim woman (her current baby-bulge notwithstanding). Her limbs are long and her body seeks to be open at all times. Even the way she carries herself, shoulder’s back, head erect, denotes a certain level of expansive energy. She doesn’t want to be small. She doesn’t yearn for the protection and insulation that many people experience in Child’s Pose. Also, while I didn’t ask Mel about this, I know from our years of friendship that her childhood was fraught with pain. Perhaps (and this is just a guess), she equates this small, infantile posture with the sense of helpless discomfort that she felt until she grew up and was old enough to take care of herself. It’s no surprise that she wouldn’t want to revert to the posture of a child but instead craves to tap into the power of her adult female self. Today, Mel is a Goddess and she wants everyone to know it!
My next query I made of another friend of mine who I shall call Lisette. Lisette is a knockout blonde who I met many years ago in an inpatient eating disorder treatment facility. While her path to recovery has looked a lot different than my own, she is nonetheless a recovered bulimic and a sacred friend. She also has a yoga teacher training certification although she doesn’t currently teach yoga. Lisette’s response to my question “What’s your favorite yoga pose?” was emphatic.
“Wheel!” She got down on the floor and demonstrated her backbend. “I do it three times a day. My body craves it. I sit all day long at a desk and Wheel counterbalances all my hunching.”
Funnily, Lisette’s love of heart opening backbends belies her quietly unobtrusive mannerisms. She’s not one to open up a great deal about her feelings or her experiences. Yet, whenever she does so, I have always been struck by the look of relief that comes across her face. Every time Lisette has opened up to me, divulging some thought or feeling, she says she feels better. And, yet, her natural inclination is to resist talking about herself. It may seem dichotomous for her body to crave this intensely opening, exposed pose when Lisette is often closed off emotionally. It isn’t. Her body is trying to tell her something. She isn’t a closed person. She doesn’t want to be. The more Lisette releases her feelings, the better she feels. Much like the backbend which relieves all of the pressure that she feels from the postures she holds in her everyday life, stretching herself beyond her conversational comfort zones opens Lisette up and comes as a welcome relief for her.
Lisette’s least favorite yoga pose is a tossup between Pigeon Pose and Cow Face Pose. Her hips feel tense and she hates holding these postures long enough to let this tension dissipate. Not surprisingly, our hips are said to be our doorway into the past. They’re where we hold our memories. Lisette doesn’t like accessing her past. Believe me! Anytime we talk, it’s clear that Lisette has no interest in discussing her childhood or teenaged years. Even if the conversation drifts there, she will not linger long in the past. It’s no surprise that this reluctance to face stored tension translates into her yoga practice. In order to release stored pain (whether physical or emotional) we must sit with it long enough to feel it and release it and we must breathe through the process. Lisette isn’t quite ready to delve deep and stay deep. Not yet. I wonder if, in time, as she progresses further in her healing, her relationships with hip openers will change… Only time will tell.
A word about Cali. Okay, her name’s not really Cali; but, this friend is from California. Cali is laid back and exceedingly cool. She has been doing yoga for a decade and used it to help herself through a painful and messy divorce. I lovingly refer to her as the “Queen of the Props” because she owns bolsters, blocks, straps, and every yoga assistance device imaginable. She’ll spend five to ten minutes in a single yoga pose and jokingly refers to restorative yoga as her muse.
Cali and I met side-by-side in a yoga class years ago and connected over a mutual love of tea and writing. When I asked her for her favorite yoga pose, I expected her to reply with a restorative pose (such as Child’s Pose or Reclined Cobbler’s Pose). She didn’t.
Cali informed me that, “I really dig Half Moon Pose because it’s so expansive and I hate Standing Splits because they’re so tiring and restricting.”
The transition from Standing Split to Half Moon Pose or from Half Moon Pose to Standing Split is subtle. It involves the raising or the lowering of an arm and the closing or the opening of a hip. That’s it. Subtle shifts often produce monumental physical and emotional changes. Cali is someone who is especially sensitive to minute alterations. True, she’s laid back; but, in Cali’s life, the impact made by small shifts matters. I know this from our friendship. I know that she has a threshold for change and that the moment that something pushes her too far beyond her limits life becomes an emotional toboggan ride for her as she careens quickly downward. My laid back friend notices when things aren’t right and is deeply affected when she can’t be open. For her, closing her body or closing herself, even for a time, feels devastating.
My best friend, confidant, and the most fabulous woman I’ve ever met who I’ll call Lee is not a yogi by any means; but, she reports that her favorite pose is Shavasana (but only after a full yoga practice) and that her least favorite is Flying Lizard Pose. She’s a real athlete and she abhors Flying Lizard Pose because she can’t do it. Interestingly, because Lee is a body perpetually in motion who can’t meditate for more than three minutes at a time, Shavasana felt like an odd choice for her. And, yet, I think it speaks to her need to stop – something that she can only allow herself to do after she’s done all that needs to be done, finished all her work, crossed all of the items off her to-do list, etc., etc., etc. (you get the idea). And it’s no surprise that, for this perfectionist, Flying Lizard Pose would be the bane of her yoga existence. She doesn’t like the idea of not being able to do something, anything. We laughed together over how frustrated she gets when I do this pose because her inner competitor relentlessly berates her about not being “good enough” and in Flying Lizard Pose, she is forced to face a fundamental reality of human existence: we all fail sometimes, and that’s okay.
I’d like to continue my yoga inquiry and to ask you, my friendly readers, to contribute to the conversation. So tell me…
What’s your favorite yoga pose and why? How does it make you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally?
What’s your least favorite yoga pose and why? How does it make you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally?
I invite readers to comment here as part of the Emotional Yoga Experience Contest. The deadline to comment is May 30th, 2014. The person who provides the answer that strikes me as being the most evocative will get either 20% off of the EYE book or 20% off of an EYE or EFT session (either in person or via Skype depending on your location). It’s entirely up to you. You pick your prize!
Stay tuned for the contest winner announcement on June 5th and thank you in advance for your contributions!!!!