Yoga Is Hard, Even for Yoga Girl® — Why We Must Lean Into the Struggle

Don’t let Instagram or magazine covers fool you — everyone struggles, on their yoga mat and on their life’s journey. Even though my name on Instagram is Yoga_Girl, this is my truth: Yoga is not easy for me.

Here is a list of things I struggle with immensely in my yoga practice:

  • Backbends, especially…

Bridge, Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

Wheel, Urdhva Dhanurasana

Camel, Ustrasana

  • Overhead grips of any kind

  • Keeping my shoulders aligned in jump-backs

  • Belly-down poses (Shalabhasana, Dhanurasana, etc.)

  • Boat, Navasana (hip flexors can't deal)

  • Warrior III, Virabhadrasana III

  • Hollowback anything

  • Headstand, Salamba Sirsasana (I don't practice them anymore for many reasons)

  • Shoulder stand, Sarvangasana (won't come near it without a pile of props)

  • Drop-backs (ARE YOU KIDDING ME?)

The list goes on. Still, I practice yoga every day.

rachel wheel prop

It took years for me to reach the point of practicing yoga every damn day. I spent my youth pushing away from self-love with a stubborn rebellion (fear). Plus, I’ve suffered from scoliosis since I was a teenager. Then, a bad car crash and a white water rafting accident left me with lower, middle and upper back pain for most of my life.

When I discovered yoga after moving to Costa Rica, my practice wasn’t asana, but meditation. I would meditate for hours every day. Because my chronic back pain made my meditation a challenge, I began practicing restorative yoga surrounded by piles of props.

It took me years of patient, restorative practice before I was comfortable moving at al on my yoga mat.

These stages developed slowly. I was reconnecting with parts of myself that I’d spent years running from. It was a deep, divine discovery — scary and freeing. The last thing I wanted to do was rush it.

Over time, my beautiful and life-saving struggle into asana began.

Today, some yoga poses come easily. But many of those same poses worsen my back pain if I practice them too much, so I don't. I am strong, and I can handstand, arm balance and Chaturanga my way through a yoga practice, no problem. But that doesn't mean that I should!

I have an extremely hard time back-bending, and the vertebrae of my thoracic spine sometimes feel like they are fused together when I wake up in the morning. Still, I don’t look at these struggles as an excuse to avoid getting my mat or practicing backbends.

Because I need space — in my vertebrae and in my spirit.

And I need flexibility — physically and mentally.

This my homework and my motivation — to practice the things I need most, which, by no mistake, happen to be the things that come hardest.

I practice most of the things listed above as much as I possibly can. I make myself do it — because I want my body to feel good; I want to take care of it so it can take care of me, and I can take care of my family, my businesses and my purpose as I walk this earth.

I get on my mat, no matter what my struggle is that day. I breathe mindfully, I listen to my body, and I move with as much presence as I possibly can. Most of the time it's beautiful, but it's also hard. And there are days when nothing works.

And then there are moments when I spend 90 minutes on my mat, and an hour in, this pose happens. After years of practicing yoga, I’d surrendered to the fact that King Pigeon was just never going to happen for me. But on this day, it happened.

Rachel-Brathen2

And yes, I needed a strap to even begin to contemplate Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana. And no, my alignment wasn't perfect and I couldn't even reach my toes. But you know what? It felt GOOD. Good! King Pigeon, or my attempts at King Pigeon, had never ever in my entire life felt good. But in that moment, it did.

A couple of years later, I started playing around with variations of Pigeon for no particular reason and realized — this shape was available for me. Just like that.

I hadn’t been practicing it, fighting for it, struggling to deepen my practice… It just happened. I was in Costa Rica and moving through lots of deep opening, cleansing, healing. The work, and shift that came from it, was much more emotional than physical.

Rachel-Brathen EPRK costa rica

For me, yoga has always been much more about the emotional than the physical. The tension we hold in our hearts is reflected in the body. Asana is a way to see what needs more love and healing on the inside.

This is why I practice: everything I do on the mat is valuable.

Even in the difficult moments — especially in the difficult moments — I'm on a journey that opens my heart. And sometimes my heart cracks open just enough for my body to open up, too.

That’s the journey we’re all on: to open our hearts, to know love and to grow love.

What are you holding on to that is no longer serving you? How are you shielding yourself from love?

If you’re not sure, notice where things feel hard, where your first reaction is to push away...and choose to lean in. The struggle will turn into a love full of magic and freedom that you wouldn’t have ever known otherwise. I promise.

Open your heart. Everything will follow.

Tell me, what are you doing to open your heart?

X,

Rachel

P.S. Your yoga practice can take so many forms! You can practice asana, meditation, breathwork, mindful eating and more here or over on oneOeight.com.

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