This is Formidable Pose:

*an aptly named pose, formidable means “inspiring fear or respect through being impressively large, powerful, intense, or capable”

I’m talking about formidable pose because, for a time I was completely and utterly obsessed with this posture (in Sanskrit, Ganda Bherundasana). It was about 2 years ago that I first met the pose and fell in total awe. Perhaps three months later I had found the pose myself. For about six months I had a daily practice of formidable, I wanted badly to master the pose and it was actually the first inversion that I felt totally comfortable with.

After a few months of this, I started toppling over in formidable. First about a year ago, I was taking my feet towards my head and I just completely collapsed, I bit my lip terribly. I bled on my mat. I had a swollen sad lip for several weeks. I did not stop the pose. Then, I began toppling over all the time in this pose. I burned my throat on the carpet practicing this pose at home. Suddenly, I was terrified of this posture that I had been in such deep worship of.

In the end, the experience really made me step back and re-evaluate the way I had begun approaching my physical practice. Even after telling my students that they didn’t need to meet any level to be “good” at yoga, that any variation of any pose was welcome and we had no goals for asana, I had allowed myself to become completely goal oriented in my own practice and as a result had put my body in harm’s way. But then again, it is often times easier to offer compassion to other’s than it is to offer compassion to ourselves.

When I realized I had wandered so far off-balance, and had literally opened my back bending practice to a place where my body could no longer balance, I completely changed my approach. I started running as a way to re-establish my own physical boundaries (running makes you tighter in virtually all of the places that a backbend is opening you). I had always hated running, I am not sure I had ever run more than one mile straight in my lifetime until last year. But I thought this was  a good experiment in getting me out of my back bending bad habit. I found out that running gave my practice new power, strength and stability, and felt amazing.

Now, I balance my practice in a much more even way. I work with equal vigor on moving in all directions, forwards, backwards, twists, arm balances and inversions. It doesn’t mean I enjoy all parts the same, but I respect them all as equally valuable to our own well-being. And I am miraculously still running, being careful about my alignment as a runner and incorporating more bodywork into my schedule to keep me running injury free. So far, so good!

This week I am teaching about preference in my classes. And it has given me an opportunity to think about all of the ways that I show my own preference in my practice and in my body. We prefer one leg to another, one shape to the next. On some level, we will always have favorites, but we should be mindful of how our preferences affect our actions. Just as we learn to stand evenly on both feet, not favoring our right to our left, we can learn to move through our life with more balance and stability by examining our own habits.

As for Formidable, it remains my favorite pose, but for completely new reasons. My experience through this pose has completely redefined the way I practice. I still love its appearance, it seems to me we are prostrating and showing gratitude, but my own gratitude for this pose has come from the incredible lessons it has taught me.

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