Kapotasana, or The Suck-It-Up School of Whine Management

Oh, this effing pose.

(Side note: did you know that “eff” is a valid Scrabble word, and it doesn’t mean the sixth letter of the alphabet? I’m using it more frequently now that I know it’s legit.)

I wrote about this back in June, but vaguely, without naming the pose. I’m not one to go on about my asana struggles too much in writing, mostly because it bores me (though oddly enough I do get into reading about other people’s practices), but something’s gotta give.


I realized today that I’ve been doing this pose since 2006. That’s seven years, folks. I’m not entirely sure when the assisted heel grab happened but I think it was later that same year. Other than a weird fluke in the summer of ’11, I was able to grab my heels on my own for the first time in Mysore last March, and that ability has more or less stuck with me since. And yet. And YET. Every time it’s a struggle of epic proportions. I need at least one toe-grabbing go to warm up, one try where I get one heel only to bail at the last minute, seven minutes of sitting on my feet trying to psych myself up, a heart-wrenching performance of On My Own from Les Miserables, and then and only then can I do it. Once I’m there, I’m there, no problem. No paining, and breathing is there. So it’s clearly a mental thing. Or an emotional thing.

Not currently having a local teacher who has gone through this part of the series, it’s challenging to know how to deal with this kind of a block. Ok, I’m fairly sure the answer comes from the suck-it-up school of whine management. But stiiiiiiill. I asked a vinyasa teacher if he had ever had a big mental block against a certain pose, and his response was that if there was a mental block, he just didn’t do that pose.

After I stopped laughing, I asked “No really, what do you do?” He said that a mental block meant that his body wasn’t ready for the pose. And while I do understand that (let’s not push through things we’re not ready for and then get injured), there are pah-lenty of poses I fully believed I wasn’t capable of until I made myself try (or a teacher made me try). See: drop backs, Marichyasana D, Supta Kurmasana, I could go on. And my body is demonstrably capable of this pose, and has been for years.

Sooo… have any of you gone through similar struggles? What did you do? I think I basically just need to, yes, suck it up, keep doing the pose, and not take breaks. Sometimes the fact that the answer is obvious doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Like when Sharath came over to me during backbending once and said “Bend your back.” Ha. HAAAAAA.

No one can say Ashtanga doesn’t have a sense of humor.

This entry was published on January 3, 2013 at 6:15 am. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

8 thoughts on “Kapotasana, or The Suck-It-Up School of Whine Management

  1. Yes, I also belong to the sucking-it-up (SIU) school of asana practice. That said, I think there is a difference between intelligent SIU and, well, not intelligent SIU. Not intelligent SIU is pretty obvious, I think: Pushing through sharp pain, etc., etc.

    I don’t really know how to explain intelligent SIU. I think it definitely involves confronting and getting past mental blocks. So I disagree with the vinyasa teacher you quoted. As Tim Miller famously says, “Avoidance is not the answer.”

    With Kapo, my experience has been that spending more time doing just one attempt (as in, hang in the pose way longer than you are comfortable with to allow your upper back and psoas and whatnot to open up) is more effective than doing multiple attempts. There is nothing wrong with doing multiple attempts, but I get the sense that the more attempts you do, the more psychological resistance you face. It’s like the difference between scaling a very steep slope at one go, or breaking it up into a few segments. If you break it up into a few segments, you tend to lose momentum, and might even fall back to the bottom of the slope and have to start over.

    Anyway, I’m just sharing what works for me and my body/mind type. Different things probably work for different people. But maybe you might get something you can use from all this.

    • Thanks, Nobel! I think you have something there, with the first-try theory of slope climbing (FTTSC). I’ll have to do that sooner or later, if I don’t want to get laughed out of led intermediate in April. Wish me luck! πŸ™‚

  2. First, don’t think about it until you get to it. Seriously. Stop thinking ‘ok here comes Pasasana, then the backbends and then Kapo’, or ‘I must work really hard in Ustrasana to prepare for Kapotasana’. Stay in the moment, in the pose that you are at.

    Then, when you get to it, just remember that the breath is what matters and that this is only 40 seconds of your practice.

  3. I hope you don’t mind if I use this space to ramble about my kapotasana experience in the spirit of commiserating, even though I’ve only been practicing it for about 15 months. πŸ™‚

    I have a huge, huge aversion to backbending in general but kapo in particular because it often makes me cry. Part of it I assume is emotional: the first time I caught heels on my own, my teacher gave me the next pose, even though it turned out that I would only get heels on my own about 2/3 of the time at that point, so every day I was thinking that everyone in the shala would think I was a fraud if I couldn’t get heels but still didn’t the next posture (I know this is crazy; who is even watching?). Kapo also is a pose that comes and goes for me as I get other postures that work the body in the reverse direction (e.g. dwi pada), so it still feels uncertain, and I hate having no idea how it will go on any given day. It also scares me to be so deep into a pose; early in my practice of the pose, I felt like I would suffocate, and even now holding the initial hangback to open my upper back just feels terrible.

    Another aspect of it, though, I think, is nervous system activity. Deep backbending, like catching ankles in urdhva dhanurasana, once gave me insomnia and other crazies, so it’s not surprising that it could make me cry, too. I also sometimes cry after parsva dhanurasana instead, so it can’t all be the emotional fear of kapo causing the reaction.

    Either way, it gets embarrassing and even just annoying to cry most days on your mat, so I sometimes feel anxiety or frustration anticipating the crying, which makes me not want to do deep backbends.

    BUT. The anxiety is only heightened, and I’m more likely to cry, the longer I go without practicing them, plus physically my back is just tighter from lack of repetition. So I try to practice through it. I’ve given myself permission not to get heels, if that’s how it’s going to be, as long as I attempt the pose twice, and the first attempt I’m allowed to shlock it if it’s a really bad day. I let myself catch my breath before the posture if I’m winded, but after that, I force myself into it because my inclination is to dilly-dally. I’m allowed not to get in all the way; I’m *not* allowed to draw it out interminably anymore. Get in, get out, get on with it πŸ™‚

    Sorry that this got way too long! It’s my overly wordy way of saying that I understand where you’re coming from. As much as it runs counter to my desires, I believe that a place where I feel a block is the very place I must need the work (a la the kleshas). So in a way I suppose I’m grateful that my bad place is a bad place for many, so I have a lot of people to commiserate with!

    • Yes it seems that there’s no shortage of commiseration! I’m with you on the idea that where there’s a block, that’s where the work should be.

      I get that emotional release from deep backbends too– it comes and goes, but lately it’s there most days. For me it’s a laugh/cry combo that I’m never really sure is one or the other. Happily, my husband finds it fantastically hilarious (I often practice at home in the dining room), so at least one of us is being entertained. πŸ™‚

  4. I don’t have suggestions, but remember when I wrote you a kapotasana limerick? http://annapulley.com/yoga-limerick-groupon-fortune-cookie/

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