When yoga gets tough: Can’t do, Won’t do

As a yoga teacher I hear and see this all the time; ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘I’m not doing that’ or ‘My legs/torso/arms/(insert other here) are too short/long’. Or, I get the quiet ones who just tend to look at me in horror waiting for the challenge to be over and we move on to something more accessible.

Unless you have an injury or a similar reason for not being able to do the posture or challenge, then I always expect my students to at least give it a go. ‘Just try’ I say.

Sometimes students fall or lose balance and I smile and say ‘That’s awesome! That shows me you went for it’. If you don’t try, you will be forever stuck where you are, unable to progress and running away from challenges rather than facing them. I try to encourage my students to take what they learn on the mat, away with them off the mat. If what you learnt from your class that day was to stick your head in the stand and shy away from a posture then that’s not really what I want you to take away from my class. I want you to feel empowered, strong and wanting to do more.

I also HATE the word ‘can’t’ in an asana practice. Instead, I explain to my class…it’s just ‘not yet’. This is the mantra I try to repeat as often as possible to those students who just feel stuck and run away. I find this re-phrasing tends to resonate with people more than me putting my strict teacher face on. I like to give an example of something that they can do today that they couldn’t do before. The simplest example I can think of is walking. We cannot walk from birth, this is something we learn to do. It may take us 9 months to a year (or even longer) of falling on our backsides before we take our first steps, but it happens with time and patience, and it’s really as simple as that.

The same principles apply to asanas you currently find impossible to achieve. We live in a world where many of us want instant gratification and quite often, we don’t want to put in the hard work required to nail the posture. What’s even worse is when it can take years to make even the smallest shift to progress.

When faced with a challenge, some students can take the ‘all or nothing’ approach. ‘I can’t get there right now so why bother?’ 

It can feel disheartening when you can’t yet do something. Especially when the shape looks simple enough. It’s very easy to take the ‘can’t do, won’t do’ route, when I can guarantee there is a possible path to the posture that will work for you right now. Take the modifications and make use of props and yoga toys to make yourself feel supported in the posture. Find tutorials online to help give you ideas on how you can make a posture more accessible. 

Something that one of my favourite yogis Elvis Garcia mentioned in one of his online classes I took years ago, still sticks with me today; ‘Any part of the pose is still the pose’. I absolutely LOVE this and it’s so so true. Let’s take the example of Bakasana (Crow pose). Even working on lifting your hips higher from Malasana pose while you plant the hands is still part of the pose. It doesn’t matter if the feet stay on the ground or not. We are training our bodies into the shape of the posture and working our muscle memory so we get one step closer to our goal. You can still engage the bandhas and find the correct protraction of the shoulders even with the feet firmly planted on the ground. Sitting on your butt and willing the moment to pass, isn’t part of the pose and you will never get there in a month of Sundays. If something is holding you back figure out what that is and work with it. Perhaps it’s a fear of falling in which case pad the space around you with as many pillows you can find, and then just fall. A soft landing with arm balances can really help take the fear out of the attempt, which might be the very thing holding you back.

I am a curvy girl with boobs and I’ve had teachers tell me some postures will never be in my repertoire. Well poo to that! Certain postures might not come as easy to me as others, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to give up. I’m going to work with the goods God gave me and make it work, and you know what – this hasn’t failed me yet.

Get out of your head. Just because thousands of people on Instagram can do that handstand you can’t quite nail yet, don’t be under any illusion. They probably had to work their a$$es off to get there. Strength drills, flexibility exercises, shoulder opening and dedication…every day. That famous yoga hashtag exists for a reason!

And guys and gals please… there is NO SUCH THING AS CAN’T – just NOT YET!

Start thinking like Frodo and get your Fellowship together and start that long journey. Just like the Fellowship, you will have some serious hurdles to climb, and perhaps you will often feel like giving up, but commit yourself to the process. You won’t save Middle Earth, but I can guarantee you will feel incredible when you eventually realise the goals that you feel are impossible today. In fact, the longer the journey, the greater the feeling of accomplishment when you finally get to where you want to be.

Here is my advice on how to save Middle Earth get one step closer to your asana goals:


If your teacher offers a variation to a challenging pose, try it. There is no requirement to shoot and score the pose the first try. Feel it out. Maybe grab your blocks and a strap and see how the props can help with the pose. Try not to rely on them too much, particularly in the example of using the wall for inversions – it’s very easy to get to a place where your best friend and crutch turns into something you rely on too much and again you can become stuck, or get used to incorrect alignment which can cause injury.


Is the posture one that opens up the shoulders? Or perhaps it’s completely focused on the core. In which case, take some time to practice drills that will build strength or open up the body in those areas. If you are even attempting arm balancing you should be warming up your wrists before you bear weight on your hands. Look at what the pose is asking from you and then do some extra homework to make the goal pose that little bit more accessible.


Progress may happen quickly or slowly but however long it takes, take the time to check in and look at how far you have come. Maybe you are managing a kick up handstand to the wall now, after starting at zero. Perhaps holding plank pose for those extra 10 seconds is alot more doable. This is all progress and looking at how far you have come gives you a good indication of how far you have to go and makes the end goal way more realistic. 


Hanumanasana (full splits) for example takes time. You need open hip flexors and hamstrings and quite often these areas are a tight spot for many people, especially if you are an athlete. As the body gradually opens the more you practice, take a moment to celebrate every time you get closer and closer to the full posture. Celebrate and take joy in every miracle millimetre. It’s a good reminder that it’s the journey that matters not the destination.




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