fitness · yoga

Yoga poses I simply can’t do, and what I do instead

Fellow blogger Christine started a Yoga is For September challenge (and created a FB group for it, as one does). I was psyched for the social support around everyday yoga. I found that morning yoga just didn’t happen very often– I’m not a morning person at all. Yoga before bed did work, even if it was the 7-minute yoga with Adriene bedtime video. I admit I often turned the video on my phone and did my own before-bed yoga while she happily did her thing.

We are keeping the everyday yoga love alive– in real life and on FB, with a new name: Octyogafest. This month Christine and I are sharing in the care and feeding of the group. I decided to add in another challenge element this month, courtesy of Bad Yogi. She is doing a 100 poses in 100 days yoga challenge, and I decided to sign up.

October 1 rolled around, and what should the first day bring but bow pose! Here it is.

Bad yogi doing bow pose. Her hands are holding her ankles behind her, with legs bent up and chest high.
Bad yogi doing bow pose.

Sigh. I can’t do this pose. At all. I’ve never been able to do this pose. I can’treach my legs with my hands. I think this is a combo of tight quads and super-tight shoulders, which is what my body is like. Yes, I’ve tried it with a yoga strap, looped around one foot or two feet. I then just feel trussed up and awkward. Sigh.

I looked around online to see what other options there are. Of course I found some. This article approaches bow pose backwards, with grabbing the ankles as the last step rather than the first. I tried it, and found I could get a nice chest opening stretch and also quad stretch without worrying about either straps or trying to grab my ankles. Whew.

This got me to thinking: there are a few yoga poses that my body just flat-out won’t do. Not now, not in the past, and certainly at no time in the future. I’m not even talking about extremely advanced poses, like these:

Of course some bodies are made so that these are easier to do, and other bodies have been able and interested in developing practices so to be able to do these. You go, such people!

But in the course of ordinary yoga classes, poses or stretches come up that we may find are totally impossible for us, while seeing other folks doing them easily. And vice versa. It’s one of the many things I like about yoga: I can find out more about my body– its strengths and vulnerabilities– on the mat in a room with other people. So here are a few other poses that I find my body just doesn’t do.

My hips are not flexible enough to do this pose– it’s called shoelace pose, and can be done seated or reclined.

But not by me. My hips are just too tight to even get close. Luckily, there are alternatives, like this one, called half-shoelace:

A woman sitting with right leg out front, left leg crossed and bent over right.
A woman sitting with right leg out front, left leg crossed and bent over right.

If that doesn’t work, I can just sit with legs crossed. Whew.

Then there’s Virasana, or Hero pose.

A woman sitting with her knees bent and legs tucked in at her sides.
A woman sitting with her knees bent and legs tucked in at her sides.

This is impossible for me to do– my quads and feet and ankles are not flexible enough to do this without pain. However, this is a yoga pose that lots of instructors turn to for seated meditation, so I’m often faced with having to do something else. Luckily there are loads of variations, some of which work for me. Here are some below:

I use two blocks, along with sometimes a rolled up blanket to ease stress on my feet and ankles. More height helps my quads, and as I do it more often, I can occasionally use one block for a little while. Whew.

Then there are the poses requiring shoulder flexibility, like these two:

My shoulders have always been super tight, ever since I was a child. So there is no way I’ll ever come close to the pose on the right. The pose on the left I can do a bit with the help of a strap. Like so:

A woman bending her right arm behind her back, holding a towel; the left arm bends below and behind, clutching the bottom of the towel.
A woman bending her right arm behind her back, holding a towel; the left arm bends below and behind, clutching the bottom of the towel.

As a develop my yoga practice, I am more aware of what my body likes to do, what it doesn’t like to do, and what it absolutely refuses to do. Good yoga instructors offer lots of modifications, substitute poses, and gentle reminders that paying attention to how our bodies feel should always determine what we do that day.

Back to my shoulders: Yeah, I’ll do some modifications in yoga class, and I do work on strengthening (in plank, downward dog, other poses). I really like eagle pose as a shoulder stretch. Also thread the needle. And then there’s this face-down pose that stretches the shoulders– it’s shown done with one arm, but you can combine it with both arms– kind of a shoulder shoelace.

I tend to work on poses that improve my quad flexibility (and strength). This helps me in other activities (like cycling). I also do foot and ankle exercises almost every day to maintain and improve flexibility, which reduces pain in my everyday life.

Sort of a shoulder shoelace pose. Lie face down and thread one arm underneath and through. bend other arm and lie with head resting on it.
Sort of a shoulder shoelace pose.
Thread the needle pose. from hands and knees, bend over, laying one arm on the mat, threading it to the other side. Use your other arm for support or move it behind your back.
Thread the needle pose.
Seated eagle pose-- arms are crossed in front of your chest, intertwined with palms together.
Seated eagle pose.

Yoga, for me, isn’t about my ambitions to maximize my flexibility, strength, balance, serenity, or supply of cool leggings. It calms me, challenges me, gives me a wake up call about my vulnerabilities, and offers ways through or around or with those vulnerabilities. Yes, there are loads of poses I can’t do. And there are loads of poses I do instead. Thanks, yoga.

What about you, yoga-practicing readers? What regular non-advanced poses does your body balk at? What do you do about it? I’d love to hear from you.

p.s. If all yoga poses are easy for you, try the Destroyer of the Universe pose. No I didn’t make it up. If you try it, also let us know. But be careful– you don’t want to accidentally hurt yourself or annihilate all sentient beings.

p.p.s. If you and a friend want to try some partner poses, some of which look impossible, others of which look fun, check them out here.

7 thoughts on “Yoga poses I simply can’t do, and what I do instead

  1. Great post. I sometimes feel embarrassed about all the things my body can’t do. I pretty much stopped going to yoga and do some yoga at home but that’s about it. Between a bunch of flexibility issues and my knees more than half of a regular yoga classes just not on the table for me.

  2. Love yoga and do some daily. I have a bad shoulder so there are some things like side planks that are never happening and extended time in downward dog isn’t great either. My tight hips and back are not happy on days I don’t do yoga though so that’s incentive.

  3. I hate partner poses. Just looking at them makes me cringe. Lol
    I will never do headstand without props. My neck is longer than the space between my shoulder and elbow. It makes it very compressive on the neck. Plus, it create severe anxiety for me to be upside down. Downward dog, yes. Headstand, no.

    Every body is so different. Props are amazing.

    As an aside, when I started yoga seriously 6 years ago I could barely fold forward in a seated wide leg forward fold. The floor was far, far away.

    6 years later I can touch my forehead to the floor if I am warm.

    I see some huge differences in some area. My shoulders are still extremely still. Sigh.

  4. Aside from flexibility, there are so many variations in bone shape that matter too (or the shape of squishier things too that get in the way). I’m trying to fix a lot of biomechanical things that came from being overly flexible and having a “stubborn athlete mentality.” Yoga teacher training helped me get to the root of the poses vs the aesthetics too (and more advanced training taught be to break things down better for my body & others! For example…I don’t do upward bow…I might to sphinx & then play with bending a leg at a time)

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