Ask the Yogi: Do I have to do every yoga pose?

traditional triangle

Q: My favorite pose to do right now is the triangle pose, but I don’t really like some other poses. Do we need to do every yoga pose or can we just do the poses we like?

A: I think that everyone has certain poses that they like more than others. Much of this comes from how the pose makes us feel. If we have a tight back we might like a pose that includes a twist. If our hamstrings are tight we might like a pose that lets us gently lengthen them. On the other side of the coin we would tend not to like those poses that make us feel uncomfortable.

It is very important to stay within your comfort zone in yoga. This does not mean that you should not challenge yourself, but rather that the challenges you create are reasonable and safe. However, if we get too complacent and avoid any challenges we will not be able to develop the muscular balance necessary to keep our body functioning optimally. Additionally, if we always do the same poses without variation then our body gets trapped in a physical rut. We stop responding to the exercise because our body has become overly tolerant and is no longer stimulated to change.

A good question to ask yourself is why you like a certain pose and why you dislike another pose. Is the pose you enjoy reducing a chronic ache or pain? That would be a good reason to keep doing the pose. It can be quite a relief to find we can reduce discomfort through our actions instead of relying on others or on medications.

What about those poses you don’t like? Do they cause you discomfort in some way? It might be that your alignment is not appropriate and you are feeling uncomfortable as a result. Review the process for the pose and see if you are letting your body move out of the ideal position for your current flexibility. This would be a great time to get some advice from your instructor on how to properly do the pose.

Sometimes we avoid a pose because it is just too difficult or requires more effort than we want to expend. The beauty of yoga is that there is almost always a modification or adaptation of the pose that will reduce the required effort.

The best news though is that you do not have to do every yoga pose. This applies when you are doing yoga on your own or even when you are in a group class. I would recommend that if you find yourself frequently deviating from the focus of the group class that you position yourself at the back of the class so you will not disrupt the class flow. If you decide to substitute one pose for another in a group class, try and choose one that is similar to what the group is doing, again so your actions are not disruptive. For example if everyone is in a seated pose, perhaps it is not the best time for you to stand up and do your triangle pose.

In your home practice do the yoga you like the best, but don’t get into a rut of always doing the same thing and never trying anything new. Chances are that a pose you previously avoided might become your favorite pose some day. Yoga is about changing our body for the better and our reactions to certain actions will change as we grow stronger and more flexible.

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