the yoga pose that burns my cookies

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.

 (source)

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:

 

(source and source for photos)

But my cookies start burning when I’m asked to do the simplest thing in pigeon: to fold forward over my front leg:

 (source)

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?

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14 comments

  1. jobo says:

    Girl, I LOVE this post!! As you know, yoga is not my friend/favorite thing, but I LOVE pigeon pose (just the first position and the laying down position you showed, the others are too much for me, whimper!) because it really stretches that area in my hips that I need. I had to laugh at the fidgeting comments because I fidget so much doing it too! it’s a pain-that-hurts-but-feels-good pain, I guess? I definitely store my sh*t in my hips too! good way of putting it 😉

  2. Holly says:

    I have a love/hate with that pose as well. I always dislike the forward seated fold where your legs are supposed to be out like splits. I move nowhere. Just kind of sit there hunched over — wanting it to be over.

  3. Susan says:

    I used to hate pigeon, but it’s every so slowly growing on me. Tracy loves giving us pigeon, and we sit in it for hours (OK, probably 2 minutes each side..) I do what you do, but first I start with pouting. Oh yes, I pout in yoga. Once I get over my pout, I fidget, and then when I can’t find anything else to adjust or change, I lay there, folded over. I’m thinking and reflecting and being taken to an edge I don’t like. I don’t like being uncomfortable on top of needing to ‘just be’.

    I actually love hip openers, but pigeon is a hard one to embrace, that’s for sure.

  4. Jess says:

    I love this post tooooo!! I have to say, that’s the only time I really “just be” is when I’m stretching during barre n9ne…I try to really let my body flow into the moves and stay as present as I can. It is probably the only time I ‘just be’ like I said. I’m with Jo – pigeon is my favorite, my hips are SO TIGHT so the more stretching I can do in that area, the better.

  5. Momma Sunshine says:

    Pigeon post also burns my cookies!! I find myself actually getting angry (usually at the instructor!! lol) when it feels like we’ve been in the pigeon pose too long. And you know what? I really don’t like looking too long at the ‘shit’ I have stored up inside me…so it makes perfect sense. Maybe I need to practice pigeon for that very reason a little more often.

    Great post.

  6. Rachel Wilkerson says:

    Pigeon pose REALLY burns my cookies too! It’s brutal!! The other one that kills me is “turbo dog”…basically a way-harder version of downward dog. It’s all shoulders and back and it’s the one that gets me emotionally and physically.

  7. Kristen @SEO Runner says:

    I really enjoy pigeon pose, but haven’t thought of why.

    Now that you’ve brought it to light, I can see.

    I’m not prone to examining my emotions, but sometimes they need to surface or I’ll never relax – even a little.

    I think I’ll be spending some time in pigeon this weekend. There’s a lot I’ve neglected lately and most of it has been shoved in my junk drawer.

    I’ll definitely be doing this in the privacy of the house and not the yoga classes I plan on attending this weekend – or at least I hope so…

    Thank you! I”ll keep your rebalancing technique in mind as well.

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