Tuesday, May 22, 2012

On falling and failing...

The first time I tried to go up into a tripod headstand was in a Hot Fusion class. I had only recently resumed a regular practice, and my body was still getting used to working in a heated room. For those of you who haven’t taken Hot Fusion, it’s a set sequence—the same poses every time. Midway through each class, we find ourselves in prasarita padottanasana (wide-legged forward bend), head reaching down to the mat…sweat dripping into the eyes…at which point the teacher will often offer the option of lifting the legs into tripod headstand. On this particular night, the teacher, let’s say her name rhymes with Erin, saw that my head was close to the floor and came over to spot me. I could hear her voice as she crouched down next to me, directing me to ground down through my hands, pull my shoulders away from my ears, and lift my feet up off the floor. “You’ve got this. Your hips are already on top of your shoulders. Just lift up your feet,” she urged calmly. And I tried. I think I made it onto the tips of my toes before I freaked out and had to spend some time in child’s pose. But she saw that I could do it. When she looked at me, she saw an aligned body, strong shoulders, and potential. When I looked at myself, however, the picture was a bit different. I saw a woman with no upper body strength and a weak core who would never be able to hold herself up. And isn’t that what it’s about? Don’t we all want to feel that we can hold ourselves up?

This comes up for me, and for other students, all the time as we plant our hands firmly on the floor and try to convince ourselves to tip forward far enough to find our balance-point in crow, or to kick up into handstand. But it’s scary! If you’re looking down, all you can see is your mat getting closer and closer to your face (one of many reasons to look forward rather than down), and then the breath gets shallow, and the mind (not the body) convinces you to come out of the pose. What is this fear? Is it a fear of falling? Perhaps, but what’s beneath that? Is it a fear of physical injury? But that’s possible in every moment of our lives (really, there’s a good chance I’m damaging my spine just by sitting this way and typing). Is this fear of falling maybe more a fear of not being able to hold ourselves up, of letting ourselves down in a very literal way?

This might not be your experience of the inversion-learning process, but that just means there’s probably something else there for you to take away from it. The bottom line: This practice is here to teach us. Yes, it gives us sweet biceps and defined back muscles and “yoga butt,” but (MUCH more importantly) it gives us the opportunity to observe our minds and the mental patterns we tend toward. It gives us a starting point for growth.