Fear is such an interesting thing. I still remember the first time I saw a clown and a deep-rooted, instinctual fear took over my body. It was at a farmer's market. My mother was buying Michigan blueberries (Michiganders will understand the distinction is important). And I ran to hide behind my mother's maxi skirted legs. While I have outgrown my fear of clowns in some ways (I still hold the belief clowning is an odd life choice), the feeling I experienced on that day is as real to me sitting here typing as it was in the moment.
I was discussing the fear of different poses with a male student last night. He shared with me that working on splits is his greatest yoga fear. This statement made me pause for a beat. He explained that when he is in the pose, it feels like there could be a moment of no return, like he is constantly riding the edge of injury. I can understand and respect this feeling. I am far from the full expression of Hanumanasana (splits) and depending on the day my hamstrings feel like a rubber band about to break. But I don't get that fight or flight feeling in the pit of my stomach.
No. The pose that gives me that sinking feeling is headstand. Sirsasana (headstand) has been my asana nemesis for years now. Some weeks I am intent on conquering it. Some weeks I am fine with it never being a part of my practice. I make all sorts of excuses. "I am really bottom heavy so inverting is hard for me." "I have to be really warm to stack my hips over my shoulders." "I slept on my neck weird so it isn't feeling it today." Oh, I have used them all. But none of these excuses are valid. It is fear that keeps me out of the pose. My fear of looking silly in a class. My fear of hurting myself. My fear of falling loudly, my body betraying me, and feeling like a heavy sack of potatoes.
Now that same student I was speaking with loves inversions. In fact, he was practicing handstands with great control later in the class. It made me think about the intention that I offered my class the previous week, reflecting on how in the class each individual is experiencing the pose differently, but we still try to create a collective consciousness among us. This requires compassion and understanding for the other on the mat next to you. And a healthy dose of self-compassion as well.
For those of you who might share my fear of headstand, I am sharing my best efforts at the pose (Alex's photography talent make it look a little better). It is far from perfect. It is far from complete. But if I can try it, I promise you can too! Even if you just start with the building blocks of placing your head below you heart. Hmm... head below heart I wonder if that has a philosophical meaning in yoga? Oh wait, it does. You are creating a shape that represents compassion (heart over the head). Alright, enough of my writing. Get practicing!