I once abhorred inversions, cringing every time a yoga teacher revealed a peak pose like Handstand.
Having practiced yoga for nearly 10 years, and taught for three, I should enjoy inversions the same way I enjoy any other yoga pose.
Why did spinning upside-down, supported only by the weight of my hands, terrify me?
In recent years, I have chosen to tackle this demon. I didn’t like feeling unnerved every time I inverted my head and felt blood rushing to my face, my legs wiggling in the air.
One day in a class, I moved into Handstand just as the teacher advised. I looked around the room, envious of those who kicked up with ease around me, and reminded myself that yoga harbors no comparisons.
I placed my mat against the wall and kicked up.
With the world upside-down, everything appeared new. Different. The ceiling, the windows, the wooden floor; I barely recognized my face in the mirror, my slim body inverted. She couldn’t possibly be me, but she was. My arms began to shake, beads of sweat dripped down my cheeks, dropping on my mat. I looked in the mirror; she was still there—I was still there.
Afterwards, in Child’s Pose, I rested my forehead on the mat and relaxed my arms by my side, feeling my breath move through my nostrils and into my belly, back to the world again. Curled in a tight ball, I noticed the scent of sweet lavender rubbed on my temples by my teacher at the start of class.
How had I not noticed?
I felt my belly tight in knots, emotional residue from a heated phone conversation with my boss, and then one with my mother.
Had the pain been there for a few days or weeks?
I couldn’t recall.
With each inhale and exhale, I breathed deeper, feeling my own air swirl within, seeing thoughts and memories sweep through me—by me. Grief over my grandmother’s death, anger at the friend who had forgotten my birthday three years in a row, frustration at myself for the years I had wasted being a people-pleaser.
These things and feelings had been there all along, but I had chosen not to see them because it was easier to remain safe, to view my life from a distant vantage point.
If you have been wanting to learn inversions too, here are a few things that helped me conquer my Handstand fear:
>> Taking a slow, deep inhale and exhale, and remembering that I can always return to my breath—this unchanging constancy that is always within me.
>> Noticing what is familiar and safe: My mat, the smell of the room, the music, the teacher I know, the students I recognize, and the wall near me.
>> Reminding myself that I can come down at any time. I am committing to effort, to taking a small step, as small as I feel comfortable in this moment today.
>> Acknowledging my fear and thanking it for the protection it offers.
>> Stepping up and into the fear by just moving, pushing up, and remembering to breath.
I still prefer to practice Handstand against a wall in the safe harbor of my home studio, but I have never been able to shake what shifted in me that day. Everything became new and different, as though I was waking up for the first time.
I have often wondered how this relates to my life outside the studio, off my rubber mat. I wondered how I could see familiar things from a different vantage point, how I could muster the courage to step away from my comfortable beliefs, habits, and postures that I permit to define my life.
For now—for today, for one breath, for one posture—this is enough.
Author: Erin Walton
Image: Rik Lotenberg/Flickr
Editor: Danielle Beutell