fitness · yoga

Catherine goes on a yoga retreat and still can’t do hero pose, despite everyone’s best efforts

I love weekend yoga retreats, especially those at Kripalu in western Massachusetts. It’s in the Berkshire mountains overlooking a lake. The food is extremely yummy mostly-vegetarian fare. The accommodations are simple (single or double or multiple-bed dorm room style), but you don’t go there to hang out in your room. There are loads of pretty spaces to read, write, meditate on your own, or chat softly with others in between classes.

The programs they offer here are varied, with multiple levels and styles. I enjoy them immensely and learn something new about myself and my body each time I visit.

Here’s a thing I’ve learned about myself and my body this trip: no matter how many props a sincere yoga assistant offers me, I STILL CAN’T DO HERO POSE. I just can’t.

What’s hero pose, you might wonder. Here’s what it looks like.

A woman doing Hero Pose or Virasana, sitting.
A woman doing Hero Pose or Virasana, unaided by any props.

It’s not twisty or bendy or balance-y at all: you just sit flat on the mat, or on one or more yoga blocks, bending your legs to sit with your feet beside your hips.. The blocks give you extra height and take some of the strain off your knees and feet. There are folks who can do this pose without them, but most people in my classes use at least one block or a blanket for a bit of comfort.

Not me. When I try hero pose (also called Virasana), it hurts the tops of my feet too much. They get all cramped, and I absolutely have to move, like right now.

There are ways to mitigate the crampage. You put a rolled up blanket or bolster behind you so the tops of your feet are sitting on it, giving them some cushion.

Same woman, doing Hero Pose with a block between her legs and a bolster between her bum and legs.

Nope. Still hurts too much. Normally, this is no problem. I know this about myself, so I just sit in another pose (sitting cross-legged works for me) and do the stretchy or twisty things. Maybe it’s not as effective, but hey—this is not a life-or-death situation here.

Except at last night’s yoga class, one very sincere and persistent yoga assistant saw me try hero pose (I always try it, in vain hopes that this time it won’t be excruciating), and decided she would make it happen this time, with the aid of loads of props. I did whisper to her, “my body doesn’t do hero pose”, but she replied with, “let me put these cushions here”. Before I knew it, she was shimming me like I was a rickety bookcase. I was awash in cushions and blankets, along with extra blocks under my bum.

Honestly, she meant well. But by the time she was done, she had effectively built a fort out of blankets, blocks and cushions, with me teetering from the ramparts. And still I wasn’t comfortable.

Trying to be a good sport, I remained in my hero-pose construction site for several minutes, trying to breathe through the pain and will the tops of my feet to relax. Soon, though, I dismantled the Jenga tower of props as quietly as possible so I could sit cross-legged on my mat and rejoin the class in whatever it was doing.

Let me say now that I don’t blame the assistant at all. It’s true that, with the right props and modifications, many poses are open to us that otherwise wouldn’t. For instance, here are two ways to modify half moon pose, which can be difficult.

Back to my anti-hero attitude about Virasana– Hero pose. Yes, there are some stretches I can do at home to get my ankles and feet in better shape to do this pose. But sometimes I think it’s okay to just say no– my body doesn’t do that. Y’all go ahead; I’m just fine sitting here doing my thing.

There’s more yoga on offer tomorrow, but I just saw a class called “Archery and Mindfulness”. Hmmm. I wonder if my body will do that. Only one way to find out…

Readers, are there some moves or techniques in your sport/activity that you simply can’t do? I’ve love some solidarity comments if you’ve got them… 🙂

8 thoughts on “Catherine goes on a yoga retreat and still can’t do hero pose, despite everyone’s best efforts

  1. No hero for me either! Knees are just not happy. And the. There is balancing poses which I can’t do. Wonder if my one legged-ness will help me finally do tree?

  2. I also can’t do hero pose. As a result of a tibial plateau fracture I suffered in a bicycle accident over a decade ago, my left knee simply cannot compress to the point where I can sit on my legs. Some yoga teachers have insisted I can get there with stretching, but there are actual metal plates and pins holding my knee together and it’s been more than ten years, so I’m pretty confident it is what it is. If the class is doing a stretch I modify. It it’s just a resting pose while the teacher is explaining the next thing, I simply “stand” on my knees while I listen.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Kuri. What an awful accident! And it’s good to hear about people standing their ground (or kneeling, as the case may be) and just doing modifications when their bodies won’t do the pose given.

  3. There are two yoga poses I can “do” but my body clearly does not like. The first is puppy stretch. It always feels wrong when I do it as if my shoulders are collapsing around my neck. The other is camel. I can do it but my neck does not like it.

  4. I relate to this as I’m very inflexible. After knee surgery I couldn’t even do child’s pose for several years. My hips are so tight that sitting cross legged hurts. It’s why I prefer to do yoga on zoom, so I can do my own thang when the time comes for the impossible poses. Yoga is a gift for the self so I try to remind myself not to see it as a competition. Sounds like you have a very healthy attitude!

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