If you never get stuck you never get better…

By Jennifer Whittemore

For me it was headstand. Every time the teacher said the word—in English, in Sanskrit—it didn’t matter, I felt my forehead tighten and my breath seize. I just couldn’t do it. Or I should say, that I could physically move into the posture, but never without paying for it with panicky feelings, soreness in my neck and between my shoulder blades.


Even with fabulous instruction and dedicated practice, I found myself getting so discouraged, so fixated, so self-berating that often I pretended to have my period rather than go upside down. My attendance at class became more irregular because the thoughts and feelings headstand would trigger would poison the rest of my day.

So clearly, my problem wasn’t just physical.

The headstand was emblematic of a larger issue in my practice. I had achieved a certain physical competence with the asana that can be learned like any other physical discipline, but somehow my body was slamming on the breaks and I needed to know why.

Unlike my previous study of dance, yoga does not follow the usual rules of learning new motor skills. At some point, physical progression will stop until the mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of one’s being catches up and integrates. This is the experience of hitting a plateau.

Here are the telltale signs that this might be happening to you:

  • ·      You find yourself in a quagmire of comparing or judging thoughts.
  • ·      You notice that your practice is surfacing difficult emotional states.
  • ·      You measure your practice by physical accomplishments and are disappointed if you don’t see progress.
  • ·      You think that you’re the only one in the room with these problems.

If this resonates, unpleasant though it may be, I’d like you to keep a journal after your next two or three classes/practices that documents these things:

  • ·      Name of the pose or activity that triggers this negative thought pattern
  • ·      The basic thought form that arises (i.e., I’m not good enough)
  • ·      The emotion attached to the thought (i.e. fear)
  • ·      How long it lasts

After you collect some data, post your reflections below or email me directly at jennwhittemore@gmail.com. My next entry will respond to your comments and questions as we explore this deep topic of how to recognize and move through plateaus.

Jennifer Whittemore is the founder of Conscious Kinesthetics, a comprehensive energy therapy and movement discipline in which she combines her practice as a yoga and somatic movement teacher with integrative manual therapy (IMT) and Ayurvedic philosophy.

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