The Ugliest Bow: Sivananda Yoga Posture Stories
By Katie Ambika Papo
Over time, our experience of yoga asanas evolves beyond the physical — the postures become our teachers and companions, showing us our relationship with ourselves and the world. Enjoy this collection of stories submitted by Sivananda Yoga practitioners from around the world, sharing their in-depth connections with each asana of the Sivananda sequence.
Every morning at 4am, I position myself on my mat to begin my sadhana. I practice meditation, pranayama, and asanas each day. I’ve been teaching and practicing yoga for years. I fill out my spiritual diary every day and send it to my spiritual teacher at the end of each week — just as I did when I lived in the ashram for the better portion of 6 years. My practice is steady, and if people were to judge me by my yoga history alone, most would assume that my postures look pretty darn good.
Just so you don’t think I’m feigning modesty in this story, I’ll admit some of my postures do look nice. This is because I’ve gone through phases where I’ve focused on certain postures. I went through a forward bend phase, when I was first learning to touch my toes, and I went through a headstand phase, increasing my hold to 15 minutes at a time. But if you saw my backbends, you’d think I just started yoga this morning.
Backbends have always been my weak spot. I’ve never liked them, I think they’re hard, and most of my students can easily perform better backbends than I can. As if I haven’t judged myself enough for my stiff spine, my husband is constantly stretching and bending himself into all kinds of impressive positions. While I’m still struggling in baby cobra, his spine’s as flexible as a wet noodle. Even on my best days, my spine is still al dente.
Recently I was asked to model for an informal photo shoot. I went through the 12 basic postures of the Sivananda sequence, one by one. When I got to the bow pose I assumed the position and held it steady, waiting for the photo to be taken. The photographer stood in hesitation, as if he was waiting for me to continue into the full expression of the posture. I realized my posture must not be good enough for a photo, so I inhaled deeply and extended myself into the fullest expression of the posture, relaxing my eyes and face.
“Wow, that was pretty good,” I thought as I exited the posture. I was impressed with what was possibly my best bow pose yet. After finishing the photo shoot, I excitedly thumbed through the photos so I could see what my best bow pose looked like — finally, I’d have proof I can do a reasonable backbend!
I arrived at the bow pose photo and before I could say the word, “Instagram,” my excitement plummeted into the core of the earth. Not only was my bow pose non-impressive, but it looked like I was demonstrating a modified version for people with injuries.
Many people have success stories about how they finally conquered an asana — how with continual practice they finally reached their physical goal. With the bow pose, I’ve yet to find my happy ending. Fortunately for my bruised ego, I’ve been practicing types of yoga beyond asana that have helped me better able to practice non-judgment for my lack of flexibility. I no longer compare myself to others like I used to. I can now be happy for others when they perform better than I do. I see myself as more than just the body, and I don’t equate my worth with what my body can do.
Every morning, I still visit the bow pose as part of my yoga practice. And it often feels like a struggle. But you know what? I like a little struggle. Struggle strengthens me. And while I understand the importance of accepting things as they are, I also believe it’s possible to struggle at the same time. I accept that I’m struggling. I accept that some things are hard. I accept that I am not enjoying this.
I’ll probably never be an Instagram celebrity with these beginner backbends, but I don’t think that’s what I signed up for in this lifetime. I think I’m here to learn discipline, acceptance, and internal steady progress. Even if I never look forward to the bow, I fully accept it as part of my practice. Regular daily yoga is my true commitment — whether I have the most beautiful headstand … or the ugliest bow.
Every week from January 1 – March 26, 2018, we will be sharing a new story — You can access all of the current ones here.