Ardha paschimottanasana: Seated half forward bend. You know the one- “Extend one leg out long, and fold your body over your leg. Walk your hands towards your toes. Now relax.” Relax! Ha! HOW? For quite a while this was my nemesis pose- the mere mention of it made my muscles tense and my mind start rebelling. I am blessed with very long legs and very tight hamstrings. Also, my pelvis tips slightly back. Like a man’s! For me, this pose looks more like “Seated L -shape.”
I must admit I usually just waited for it to be over.
In my early days of taking yoga classes, my teacher used to always guide us into this pose right before savasana. What? Not relaxing! That’s ok Brendon, I forgive you. Because this simple little pose has taught me more about yoga and myself than any other.
So let’s talk about ego. It’s kind of the elephant in the room in yoga class. As much as the teacher may say “Do what feels good in your body, ” we still sometimes kinda look around and see how others are doing the pose. Especially as newer students. We want to know if we are doing the pose “right.” I get it. I spent quite some time feeling like I should be progressing in my seated half forward bends quite a bit faster than I actually was. I was striving for a result. Teachers just said “keep practicing,” but my L shape stayed the same. Brand new students would come into class and drape their chests over their legs, and I was still very much seated upright in an L shape. Although this shape afforded me a great view of the class, I wondered why this pose remained unmovable.
I remember before I went off for a month to take my yoga teacher training in 2016, I sat in my living room and practiced ardha paschimottanasana. almost every day. Funny that I thought that mastering this pose was somehow necessary, pre training. Or ever. The pose looked pretty much the same in my body when I got there as it did when I first started practicing yoga. My teacher said to me “What are you holding on to?” Hmmmm. Good question. I was holding on to lots of things. Striving, grasping, ego, and self-judgement. I don’t think at that point I had hoisted aboard what yoga was really all about. After a month of teacher training of constant yoga practice, teaching, philosophy, and personal reflection, my ardha paschimottanasana. still looked pretty much the same! But… I felt strong, steady, and joyful! A much bigger picture was opening up to me.
If I could say anything to beginning yoga students and have them magically believe me, it would be this – yoga is not about striving to make certain shapes with your body. It is getting to know yourself in a kind and accepting way, without judgement. Then yoga can work its magic- making us strong, confident, compassionate, and joyful.
How’s my ardha paschimottanasana now, you may wonder? Do I still fight it? Not at all. Through lots of time on my mat, I have learned some things about this pose that help me integrate it into my practice in a pleasant and helpful way. For example, I often roll my mat up a bit behind my hips- this helps tip my pelvis a little forward so I can find more ease in the pose. Also, if I feel like stretching my back a bit more in the pose, I put a little bend in my knees and then can release forward more easily and stretch my back. Now that I have started running my body actually craves this pose, and I make it a part of every post run stretch out.
Maybe there’s a pose you encounter in yoga class that you just wait to be over. Perhaps this is the pose that can help you learn the most about yourself. Check in with your thoughts during this pose – this is the area where we can make the most growth of all.
Enjoy the journey!
Leslie February 2020
Post Script, February 9… I am always learning! Today in Raj’s class I learned that if I tuck a blanket under my heels in a standing forward fold I can tip forward much more easily. I also learned that if I hook my thumbs together and pull my hands out away from my body slightly as I tip forward that helps lengthen out my spine and gives some ease to my lower back when I am in a forward fold.. Yay!