Practicing What Does Not Come Easily

I have written before about how headstand is my least favorite pose. I am not confident in my balance in the pose. I have fear about falling. And I don’t practice it consistently enough to change my feelings toward the pose.

Knowing this information, imagine my shock when someone told me that I made going into a tripod headstand look easy. Offended is not the right word, but I was shocked at the very least to hear this. Nothing about headstand comes easily to me. I teach the tripod prep in my classes because that is the variation I am most comfortable demonstrating. But I wouldn’t call it easy for me.

I have practiced the tripod variation over and over again. I have fallen doing it. I have cricked my neck doing it. And then I would do it again. When you add the talking required while teaching the pose you have my living nightmare. But I know it is a pose with many, many benefits and one where students enjoy the challenge. So I have worked at becoming competent in demoing how to build up to the pose. I guess this is how it has come to look easy. And if it is easy, then it is time I do something new in my practice.

I am even less comfortable doing the supported or “basket” version of the pose with the forearms down. I like having my hands grounded on the mat in the tripod shape because it gives me a greater sense of control. But our teachers always say that the poses we like the least are the ones we should practice the most. These poses address the physical and energetic imbalances in our body. I mentioned liking the sense of control I have in tripod but this control is just an illusion. It is a comfort I have given myself. None of us really have control over the circumstances in our lives. We can only make the best decisions for ourselves based on those circumstances.

So, I am choosing to practice the variation of the pose that I dislike. I know it will bring a bit of freshness into my personal practice. It will teach me a lot about myself and how I deal with things that are difficult. Maybe someday a student will tell me that I make it look easy. Then it will be on to the next challenge.

The Things that Scare Us

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!