Ask a Yogi: Why can’t I do this pose?

After 5 years of consistent yoga, I still haven’t mastered many poses.

And perhaps never will. And frankly, other than my ego, who cares?

Our bodies are not made for every pose.

An amazing woman in one of my classes has a “robotic” shoulder. Nearly everything near or around her shoulder is completely reconstructed. Pushups are near to impossible for her with most of her shoulder and chest muscles removed on the left side. However, her right arm is stronger because of the imbalance.

I noticed during a chest-opening class that she was modifying poses to make it work for her shoulder. She laid a block underneath her shoulder in thread-the-needle. When gomukasana arms wasn’t happening, she decided to do her own thing entirely. I barely had to give any instruction about how to modify the poses. Given that this woman had little yoga experience, I was genuinely amazed.

After the end of the class, she told me:

“I can’t do many of the chest stretches, because of my shoulder. So if you see me over doing something off, that’s why.”

“You were doing the great. It looked like you knew exactly how to adjust for it.”

“Well, I’ve been doing it forever!”

I finally understood why this woman seemed so adept with her body. She had this reconstructed shoulder since she was young. She knew her limitations and understood how to accommodate this decreased range of motion.

I wanted all my yoga students to be more like this woman! It was evident that she knew her body and how to take care of it. In a typical yoga class, many people encounter resistance in their bodies. But instead of trying to adjust or modify the pose like my student with the artificial shoulder, they try to push themselves past their limitations –where injury can occur.

There is so much variation in the human body. Even when everyone is doing the same pose, they look completely different. For instance, in easy pose (sitting cross-legged), some people feel enormous pressure in their hip joints –cringing and wriggling to get out of it. Other people could sit there all day without pain.

The truth is, you aren’t going to change your anatomy with yoga.

How our bones and joints are formed is not our fault. You can’t change the placement of your hip sockets to have more open hips. There’s no amount of yoga that’s going to fix bone to bone compression.

Let’s be real and just face the facts of life:

You won’t be able to do it all!
(And if you can do everything… you are probably not that interesting.)

In my advanced teacher training, we did anatomical tests. I found out I have little humorous flexion. I could barely lift my arm without the use of my shoulder. Once I learned my lack of humorous range, it explained why I have so much difficulty switching my grip in dancer. It probably also explains why dropbacks still freak me out.

Many, many a failed attempt^

I was intrigued in all the variations of bodies, so I tried out a couple tests on my boyfriend. I had him clasp his hands behind his back and try to lift his arms away from his body with unbent elbows. He could barely lift an inch! (Mind you, he is a very flexible guy). On the other hand, I had no problem lifting my arms 10 inches away from my body. In this case, it’s all about the shape of the scapula.

He’s really trying to lift his arms I promise 🙂


Knowledge of the body is powerful.

When I hear, seasoned yogis saying “I’m not strong enough” or “I’m not flexible enough”, I wonder if they are aware of the bones they were born into. Perhaps it’s not a matter of strength or flexibility, it may be your literal body holding you back.

When I instruct classes, I encourage people to take control of their practice. What feels good to you in this moment? Explore and play with poses. Be curious about your practice, and you’ll learn more about your body. 

Embrace your bodily quirks! Seek out what feels good for you!

We have a theme in our culture that if you try hard, you can do anything. This means that if you didn’t achieve your ultimate goal, you aren’t doing enough–you are a slacker. Well, that’s just darn upsetting! (Especially, if chance gave you three flat tires in three months.)

It’s okay to have limitations. Once you can understand them, learn how to make them work for you.
No one needs to do everything.

One thought on “Ask a Yogi: Why can’t I do this pose?

  1. Very enlightening article. Thank you for sharing this insight. It always seems like I can do certain poses really well, while other poses make me feel like all my practice with them has been squandered–despite having done them many times and trying really hard to get better at them. It goes to show you that sometimes focusing on our weaknesses is not always as practical as playing to our strengths!

Leave a Reply