My YTT journey is coming to an end in a few days. Looking back, I started this course with the intention to learn the proper alignments and muscle engagements to do yoga poses correctly for my personal practice. I joined the course knowing that headstand is part of the final exam and I, like many, have a fear of inversions. Enrolling myself into this course forced me to confront my fear and I must say, it has been a very introspective headstand journey.
I recall Master Sree asking all of us to go into headstand against the wall in our 2nd or 3rd class and my immediate reaction was ‘WHAT!? We are barely into the course and I don’t know how to do this, how do I even …’ My feeble attempt was to come into Dolphin pose, keep walking my feet towards my palms and alternate lifting my feet up, which did not reach anywhere near my butt.
Then, somewhere along the course, where we were reaching the end of our Ashtanga Primary series learning, headstand popped up again as it is part of the series. Again, the same ‘Noooo …’ reaction rose. There was no escaping this time – Master Sree had us did it right at the mat, without the wall, but he was there to support and guide us. That was my very first time in a headstand. I guess I should have been happy then, but I was too busy panicking to feel the pose. All I wanted was to come back down ASAP and have my feet grounded again. I was not present at all.
It took me another week or so before I felt compelled to really start practising headstand. Even before coming into the physical practise, it was a lot of internal self-questioning and self-convincing.
‘What is it that I am afraid of when there is the wall behind me?’
‘The wall is just XXcm away from my palms and elbow. And if I were to go upside down, and my feet were to touch the wall, the wall has to be XXcm away from me *measures length from knee to heel*’
‘What is the worst that can happen if I fall?’
‘What if I fall sideways?’
‘What if I fall and I don’t react in time and I hit my knees?’
‘How do I come down if I manage to get up?’
Yes, I think a lot … maybe too much for my own good. Well, there comes a point where I cannot answer my own questions and the only way to find out is to just try and see what happens. That’s when I guess I have to surrender and trust that my body can and will do what it can do. But before that, a deep breath and reminder to stay present and not panic.
Once I had that mental state settled (to me, it felt almost like I had to zone out), the physical practise was a lot easier. It was still baby steps one at a time.
Keep both legs up in a bend knee position close to the chest
Balancing at this halfway point (This position actually feels nice… the weightlessness, why can’t the full expression of headstand be this?)
Raising bent legs up and tilting back (Why am I not touching the wall yet!? Phew! Oh … so this is how it feels. Can I tilt myself back and straighten my legs without touching the wall? Hmm .. let’s try that next round.)
Pushing feet against the wall, straighten torso, straighten one leg to the ceiling (Eh … push myself away from the wall? OK… sure… Is this enough? Am I straight? How does straight feels like? And now you expect me to remove 1 foot from that wall?)
Straighten the other leg to meet the straight leg and SQUEEZE them together and hold that balance (breath and trust, breath and trust, and SQUEEZE!! OK, I’m off balanced … *wobbling* OK, time to come down.)
Panic still kicks in sometimes, but I know better now and had some successful experiences to fall back on to know that I can do this. This is within reach. I may not be there yet but the knowledge that I am able to do it is empowering.
Being able to perform the headstand is undoubtedly an achievement. However, I view the ability to sit with your fear, face it head-on, question its validity, and act responsibly to be a greater achievement. Applying this to different asanas and, more importantly, to life allow us to live a more present life and actively choose our responses instead of having a victim mindset.
Finally, I leave you with 2 quotes. The first being a favourite of mine and the second is so true of many asanas.
“Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is the product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity. Now do not misunderstand me, danger is very real, but fear is a choice.”
― Will Smith in the movie ‘After Earth’
“The body achieves what the mind believes.” ― Napoleon Hill