Each yoga teacher has his or her sayings. When Laura at Nishkama Yoga guides us into a pose that isn’t one of her favorites, she tells us that pose “burns her cookies”. It’s when you’re in a pose that seriously challenges you – more in an emotional/mental way than a physical one.
For me, that pose is pigeon pose. This hip opener works so much more than that. In the pose, you are stretching every muscle you can think of in your legs, and with proper alignment, continues to open the top half of your body. If you have loose hips, getting your front foot parallel with the top of your mat comes easy.
This is just the start of numerous variations that you can take in this pose. If you are very open in the hips and hamstrings, you can take that front leg out and stretch it long for a variation on the splits. Since I’m super bendy in my back, taking pigeon pose into a backbend is extremely gratifying for me. I could spend all day in these variations:
But my cookies start burning when I’m asked to do the simplest thing in pigeon: to fold forward over my front leg:
Get me outstretched and things start bubbling up. My eyebrows get furrowed. The level of crankiness that arises from my being is frightening. I want to start kicking puppies and other cute creatures. I become someone very opposite than the loving individual that stood on her yoga mat a moment earlier. So what is it about this variation that causes me so much grief?
First, the hips are an area of the body where we let stress accumulate. (Or as Laura says, we store our sh*t there.) With so many muscles and body functions coming together in one area of the body, it’s no wonder that our hips are the junk drawer of our body. So in this hip opener, you are opening that junk drawer of emotions. And if you haven’t opened your hips in awhile, the junk is just overflowing ready to flow out. And if you’re a runner, your hips are more likely to be tighter than most because of the movement related to that activity (AKA square hips doing the same motion repeatedly).
Back bending is a very heart opening process. As an people-loving and embracing person, I open myself to people fairly easily – therefore the ease of the backbend variations for me. On the other hand, forward folding in any position forces the yogi to look inward, making them aware of what’s inside them. If you are holding guilt or self-doubt, you are forced to deal with that head on.
So some basic math: a hip opener + forward folding = a yogi taking a look at all those bottled up emotions inside of themselves.
But if you know me, I don’t want to look at that sh*t inside me. Remember my preferred coping mechanism of distraction? From that post: I don’t like unhappiness. I don’t like arguments. I don’t like being uncomfortable. If it’s not the status quo, I am uneasy and am always doing one of two things: trying to fix it or ignoring it.
So instead of settling into the pose and focusing on my breathe, I fidget. A lot…
- I try to move my front leg to a better position.
- I try readjusting my back leg. But it’s usually where it’s supposed to be.
- I make sure my hips are aligned properly.
- I try a different arm placement in the fold.
- Then I fidget some more.
- Then I get lazy and lean into my one side to make the stretch easier – usually to be moved back to alignment by my instructor.
And after all that, I’m finally forced to just lay there in the pose. I’m forced to JUST BE. And as that happens, the emotions pop up – many things I don’t want to deal with. I can’t always hold pigeon for the entire time because of those series of thoughts and emotional moments that arise.
Some days, you just don’t have the courage to deal with what you’re storing within your being. But on the days I can, I focus on my mantra of “I am present” and that makes those moments easier. I need to remember it’s okay to feel those emotions and to let them go as soon as I recognize them. So as much as I dislike it, my path to self-awareness includes many travels to pigeon pose.
I can’t say the hip openers are my favorite parts of class. But I know they are always followed by some back bending, so my balance is quickly restored. And after a nice camel or wheel, I’ve always learned something about myself in those final moments before savasana.
What’s the pose or activity that “burns your cookies”? How do you get through those moments?