February 12, 2014

What Falling Out of Handstands Taught Me About Love. ~ Caroline Howell


If love were a yoga position, it would be handstand.

I find so many correlations between the two—most notably, I find many similarities in how I get into each of these precarious situations.

In my group classes I have seen that many people are fearful of taking the big step one must take to align shoulders over hands, hips over shoulders and legs strongly reaching for the sky. They are fearful of falling completely over so they don’t take the leap at all. They sit quietly on their mats and never run the risk of getting hurt.

Others are somewhere in their careful process of hopping one leg off of the ground to maybe getting both legs off and somewhat vertical in the air. They never push off too far but each practice is filled with more courage, getting them closer to their goal of alignment and balance.

I always felt like such an anomaly in handstand practice. The first time I jumped into handstand, I literally jumped. I was new to yoga but wanted so badly to be in the handstand position. I wanted the end result more than I wanted the process, so I just bounded into it. Well, my legs did make it over my shoulders.

For a brief moment, I was there.

I was in handstand! Unfortunately, my core and hips were left behind in the wake of my eagerness to accomplish my end result. Without the engagement and alignment of my core, my legs just kept going and off I flipped into a very awkward and painful crumpled predicament.

Then, one of my favorite teachers, Buffy, said something that I will never forget: “The way you fall in yoga is often the way you fall in life.” In my initial defensiveness I scoffed and thought, ‘that’s crazy, I never fall so awkwardly and painfully in real life.’

Well, I kept falling—the same way. Eventually I got pretty good at getting out of the awkward back bend crumple I always found myself in. While I was getting better at it, I was also getting more frustrated. No matter how good I got at gracefully exiting my fall, I wanted something else. I wanted to not fall. I wanted to land strongly and purposefully in handstand.

Outside of class, I was in love. I had landed in love much the same way I “landed” in my handstands. I catapulted into it and for the relatively brief time that it lasted, it was electrifying and flipped my perspective on everything. I came to realize that as long as my partner also leapt into love with me, we could meet each other at the top and use each other for balance, always leaning and resting on the other person. It felt good, it looked good-until it came time to stand on our own.

Eventually, we were both too fatigued to hold each other up. What was a breath of bliss quickly became many sobs of pain. When we broke up, it felt very much like trying to get out of a crumpled backbend on the floor. Again, I wanted something else. I wanted to not fall.

Each new person I dated I leapt and bound into our potential for my ideal end result-always leading and grabbing with everything but my heart, again leaving my core behind in my hurry to get there quickly. Sometimes they would meet me there for brief periods of balance and delight. Other times, they were nowhere to be found and again I found myself uncomfortably alone and fallen. I decided to play it safe in love, and in yoga. I was no longer flipping over after handstands, but I also was no closer to upside down alignment. Again, I was left wanting.

One day, in a furrowed moment on the floor, I finally asked the big questions. Why did I want to be in handstand? Why did I want to be in love?

The first response I heard was that if I could land in love and in handstand, then people would know that I was strong, worthy and enough.

Then, a quiet voice deep down said, “you already are.” It was the first time that it occurred to me that everyone else’s approval was what I was seeking. This, “see how good I am” mindset was driving my process and perceived perfect end result.

Again, I was letting everything but my own heart lead me and hold me up.

It is from this realization that I set a new mission for my year. I vow to myself that I will land in handstand with strength and alignment. I will lead with my heart and use the strength of my core; I will step into handstand without needing anyone to meet me there. With proper preparation, engagement and knowing that I am enough, I know I will. I also vow to myself that I will land in love this year.

The difference will be that I will no longer look for others to meet me there halfway. I’ll meet myself there and enjoy the blissful view from upside down.

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Assistant Editor: Heather Hendry / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Flickr 

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Caroline Howell