The Myth of the Unattainable Yoga Pose

 “Those who say it cannot be done, should not inteupt those who are doing it.”- George Bernard Shaw

Whenever I hear people talk about poses being unattainable, I ask one question: “how often do you practice that pose? 99.9% of the time,  this shuts them up, because the answer 99.9% of the time is they don’t practice it.

This comes up frequently around the topic of instagram.  People who are against yoga sefies on instagram often say, “the poses shown are unattainable. If they are unattainable, how was that picture taken? Isn’t that person doing the pose? Doesn’t that technically mean that it is attainable? Just because it is not attainable for you doesn’t mean it is not attainable for others.

Body is not stiff, mind is stiff-Pattabhi Jois

Body Strong. Mind Weak-Pattabhi Jois

Ashtanga is the yoga of seemingly “unattainable” poses. If you look up any ashtanga yoga chart you will find poses that are mind blowingly difficult. Here are some from the APP.






But yet, all over the world, Ashtanga practitioners are doing these poses everyday. Why can these people do these seemingly impossible poses? Because they work at them, day in and day out, year after year until they get them.

Why can’t you do them? Because you or someone else has told you that you can’t and you believed it or simply because you don’t work on them enough.

A recurring story I hear all the time in Ashtanga, is “a teacher told me my body was not right for this pose and I would never be able to do it, and now I can do it.” Kino Macgregor and David Robson, both very accomplished Ashtangis, were told that their bodies were not right for certain poses and they would never be able to do them and they each overcame those lies.

That is what I love about Ashtanga.  Anything is possible with work and time.

Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@shannasmallyoga.com.


  • Bindibandit

    Shanna: your well-meaning intentions in this post seems to have been grossly misinterpreted and taken out of context by many. A good teacher is able to empower students to reach their full potential. And ‘full potential’ is not really up for discussion, as this is highly individualized and intricately personal. What good can it do to say instead “based on your genetics/musculoskeletal makeup you probably won’t ever be able to do this pose”? It goes without saying that there is a very fine line between pushing to your limits and pushing past them into an injury. While the instructor encourages you to reach your personal best, it is the student’s responsibility to listen to their bodies. This is where the asana practice stops and the yoga practice begins. The teacher cannot practice the yoga, on behalf of the student.

  • Amy White

    Wonderful!! It is all about the practice and allowing the poses to unfold in their time. For each of us, it’s different but we only will know what we can or cannot accomplish when we practice and honor our bodies as we go.

  • Colleen Wait

    I’m a runner and as such, your blog reminds me I need to stretch. I can’t sit still long enough to EVER achieve any of these poses, but it does motivate me to go stretch.

  • nadine

    for those who may want some background information on this, check out Kino’s interviews:

    Be stronger: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3q-ztl5NDk
    suspend disbelief: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuEDCOS_lF0

    i am not super bendy, i do not have a full lotus in my practice at this time, and i will not blow my knee out trying. however, my strength and truth lies in this… i am where i am because i put myself there, and not because someone else told me i cannot do it.
    that’s all this blog is about.
    be stronger, suspend disbelief and trust your self. if in your true heart and soul, your foot goes behind your head, then your foot is behind your head.