When my daughter was young we encouraged to her to try a variety of foods. Some she would try and like. Others she wasn’t so sure about. My mother-in-law once told my daughter that one should try new foods twice. The first time is just to see what it tastes like. The second time is to decide if you like it.
I found the idea of trying something twice before deciding about it particularly insightful. Before we try something we may have preconceived notions of what it will be like. We may be quite surprised by a new experience. In the moment of surprise we’re not ready to make an informed decision. We may find that the experience isn’t what we were expecting. We should take some time to truly be in the experience. The more we contemplate the experience, the better we can understand how it is different from what we expected, and whether or not it is a good experience.
I have certainly had a number of new experiences in practicing yoga. I’ve seen poses that look easy, only to get into them and find they’re not so easy after all. There’s a lot of work going on in the body to just hold still in any yoga pose. I also recall seeing a teacher introduce a new pose and thinking to myself “yeah, that’s not going to happen. You want my limbs to go every which way, and balance?!”. But as the instructions flowed from the teacher, I moved into the pose and heard the most important actions to develop in order to maintain the pose.
It was not long after I started taking yoga classes that my mother-in-law’s adage came back to me. I learn a great deal by doing, and repeating. I am happy when a teacher repeats a relatively new pose a week or two after it was first introduced. Then I am past my preconceptions and can more fully experience the pose on the second attempt. I do try new poses in my home practice. But it is different when a teacher reviews a pose. I find that I am so caught up thinking about a new pose that I don’t seem to hear, or at least remember all the important instructions.
There are poses that I tried several times and decided that I didn’t like for whatever reason. In the past I would practice those poses less often. I might have even groaned internally when a teacher announced one of them. I’ve mentioned before that teachers don’t have a choice in the syllabus of poses they are required to understand and teach. I found out something as I practiced for my assessments. Poses that used to be hard or feel out of kilter didn’t feel the same as before. As I increased my frequency and length of practice. I had two insights about my poses. The first insight was that when a pose felt wrong I probably didn’t have good alignment. Alignment is an integral part of the Iyengar method of yoga. As I worked to improve my alignment it felt better to be in the pose.
The second insight I uncovered was that improving the introductory poses helps with the more challenging poses later. In my first four years of yoga I was never able to get my heels to the floor in downward dog. As I increased my time in this pose and Uttanasana (feet together forward bend) I developed more length in my hamstrings. When I started practicing the revolved versions of the standing poses (triangle, side angle, and half moon) I found that those now came easier. I no longer disliked them. I hadn’t realized that hamstring length affected so many other poses.
When you try new poses give them a couple of chances before you decide to practice them less often than others. When you notice that the poses you do practice have gotten better, go back and give the harder ones another try. They may just make a different impression on you.