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The Lessons of "Stop There" in Bali

Updated: Apr 15

a temple in Ubud with Ganesha showing through the open doorway

There’s this weird thing about yoga. On the surface (and especially on social media) it looks like it’s just about these poses. And it looks like these poses are very hard for an average person but very easy and simple for the yogi. Seeing a yogi in a moment in time (whether observing their practice IRL or on social media) does not convey any sort of understanding of what is going on beneath the surface.

In Bali, I’m studying with a teacher who is quite strict and will not let you progress past a pose if you cannot complete the pose to his satisfaction. In Ashtanga yoga, there is a set sequence and a very specific method, and this teacher adheres to it quite tightly. You can read more about his experience with this "stop there" method here. In his essay, he says something that has really stuck with me throughout this challenging chapter in my practice:

It’s a bit tricky as a teacher, to be able to do this in a compassionate way, so that it doesn’t feel like I am taking something away from the student. The reality is, I am giving them something, by showing them where they need to work.

It’s no secret to people who have known me for even just a short time that I struggle a lot with my right hip. It causes a lot of issues in my Asana practice, especially when anything lotus or half lotus is involved. But, in general, I’ve been able to mostly modify, slip past, or avoid the work of most of the toughest poses that involve padmasana, and I in turn favor poses that feature my strengths, like back bending and forward folding. If I am being completely honest with myself, all I have learned from garbha pindasana is how to lie to myself, cheat my practice, and sneak through poses when I think nobody is watching.

This particular teacher saw this immediately and had me stop at garbha pindasana. For those unfamiliar, this pose has you put your legs into lotus, then slip your arms into the spaces between each leg, roll 8 times on your back in a circle, and then press up, lifting your lotus so you are just on your hands and holding it for 5 breaths. If you're having trouble picturing it, here is a video of Kino demonstrating how it's done.

When this pose was first introduced to me, I laughed. I thought it was a joke. I legitimately thought it was satire of ashtanga yoga.

And maybe from the very beginning, I’ve had that attitude about it. I’ve treated it as this silly pose that isn’t important to me… because I cannot do it. If a teacher isn’t looking, I’ll usually skim past most elements of the pose. I’ve been guilty of skipping it all together on my worst days. And some days, I give it about a 50% effort and then move on to my *literal favorite* section of the practice.

So, to be asked to stop at this point in my practice broke my heart the first time he asked me to. The second time, I expected it. Today, I was determined to at least try in the pose. Well, at least that’s what I told myself before bed last night.

barely awake and dragging myself downstairs to hop on a scooter taxi to the shala for 6:30am practice

Today, my alarm went off at 5:05 and I immediately snoozed it. I fell back asleep and rationalized that going to practice today wasn’t going to be worth it if I only got to practice to garbha pindasana. I told myself I’d do a self led practice later today. I told myself that the teacher wouldn’t even notice or care that I was missing. I had maybe 20 excuses.

But then I remembered that day in Goa where I didn’t want to practice and went anyways. Some days, it’s so challenging to get myself onto the mat. On those days, I’ve found that my practice is usually not my strongest, nor does it feel like it has any sort of ease. It isn’t even fun or meditative or pleasant. But, the practice isn’t about being strong or finding ease or having fun or feeling good. The practice is about that commitment to showing up daily, no matter the circumstances, and giving it exactly what I can give it. Sometimes it’s everything just to show up. Today was that day.

Today was not my best practice. I struggled to find my breath during Surya namasakar. I fought hard to bind my marichiasana D. My dropbacks felt weak and shaky. But, the assistant came to help me today during garbha pindasana. She gave me almost 5 minutes of help with finding ways to bring my knees closer together in my lotus. She helped show me exactly where my hands should be slipping through my legs. She held me while I struggled and pushed so hard that I actually had tears streaming down my face.

Did I get into the pose? Hahahahha

Not even close.

Did I feel like one day it might be possible?

A tiny bit more than I believed it would be yesterday.

Next time you see somebody post a photo of their Asana and it looks beautiful and full of ease, it’s worth considering that the person in that photo probably had to do a lot of work to get into that pose. Maybe the work wasn’t even physical. Some people are naturally physically adept at the practice. But I think that we all struggle with this practice mentally. We aren’t born with more discipline than others. We aren’t naturally better at doing hard things. We don’t have some secret ingredient for life that others don’t have. We just show up on the mat. Even when it’s hard. Maybe, especially when it’s hard.

Maybe one day I’ll post a pic of me in garbha pindasana and we can revisit this post and my thoughts on it. That would be really magical. But for now, I’m not trying to hold on to any attachments or expectations of myself in this pose. I can already tell it’s going to be a long journey to even get the basics of this pose. And I’m okay with that.

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