How to Treat Your Asana Nemesis
By Lisa Ash Drackert
For five years, pashasana has been my nemesis. I’m certain you have an asana nemesis, too. It’s that one pose that looks impossible, seems impossible and feels impossible. It’s that one pose that reminds you that you suddenly need to go to the bathroom, leave class early to write yourself a parking ticket, and quit practicing yoga altogether to take up sword swallowing. Literally, anything to get out of doing this pose. You know the one I’m talking about.
Pashasana (noose pose), which I detest, is the first pose of the Second Series, which I adore. So how do I approach my nemesis when I’m faced with these two conflicting feelings?
Patanjali writes in the Yoga Sutras, “Posture must have two qualities of firmness and ease. Posture is when effort ceases and meditation on infinity occurs.” (Yoga Sutras II.46-47)
So, let me get this right: I’m trying to bind my very strong (read: tight) shoulders in a twist around my entire body AND my legs, while balancing on my toes and stretching my heels to the ground in the deepest squat imaginable, WHILE exerting no effort AND breathing ujjayi breath AND meditating on infinity?
Again, this seems impossible.
But the truth in the Sutra’s is undeniable: doing asana postures requires mental and physical effort to stay focused and requires a sense of ease until the moment empties of struggle. This simultaneous engagement of effort and ease allows me to meditate on what is most important about practicing yoga. What is most important? Cessation of suffering and Union with the Divine.
Patajanli describes asana with two qualities that may seem opposed to one another at first glance: firmness and ease. If the posture is to be firm, then the foundation of the pose must be grounded and muscular effort must be used. However, if the pose is approached with fear, resentment or frustration, then mastering this pose supersedes the primary aim and true Yoga is lost. My nemesis remains my nemesis.
Alternatively, if the posture also requires ease, then the pose involves relaxation, softness, and tenderness. According to scripture, asana is preparation for meditation and samadhi, pure bliss and Union. Therefore, the spine and the limbs of the body should be placed in a steady and pleasant position. This way, the poses are conduits for calming the mind. When treated with tenderness, my nemesis is more likely to become my friend.
What I learn by studying the scriptures is that if I ever want to become friends with pashasana (I’d settle for amiable acquaintances), then I have to approach this nemesis asana with both concentrated determination and also gentleness. It doesn’t really matter if I ever get the full bind or lower my heels all the way to the floor. What matters is that I use pashanasa as a tool for calming my mind, letting go of striving, and allow myself to experience a sense of meditative stillness. That doesn’t sound impossible after all.