Tonight in yoga class I did a headstand for the first time since I was in my mid-twenties….sort of. About halfway through class our teacher did a mini-workshop on the pose, which he had promised us after a request in last week’s class. He walked us through the process, emphasizing that no matter how good you get, you should always follow the steps to ensure safety.
“I ALWAYS measure my elbows,” he said, tucking the space between his forefingers and thumbs into the crooks of his elbows, “and make my base. Then I make my basket. No matter how good I get I always measure my elbows and make my basket.” He laced his fingers together and made a base for his head. Slowly he lifted one straight leg into the air, and then the other, breathing deeply and seeming to move his his legs and twist his torso with ease.
“What are you afraid of? What happens if you fall over?” he said after a few moments of watching us grunt and tumble around like puppies. “It’s just tadasana,” he continued, referring to one of the most basic yet integral poses of yoga. Tadasana is a standing pose that engages the entire body from the toes to the core to the crown of the head. It provides the sturdy frame for standing poses such as tree, horizontal poses such as plank and side plank, and even inversions such as headstand.
He motioned for me to come to the front of the class and help him demonstrate. After walking me through tadasana, signaling me to tighten up and straighten my muscles from my toes to my head he was able to move me back and forth like a stiff piece of plywood. I was feeling more confident. I can do tadasana all day. Just don’t ask me to do headstand again.
He then had me turn around and mimic the foundation for headstand of the elbows and forearms over my head, complete with the finger basket. “Oohh, I’m glad we wore the racerback top, that will really show off our swimmer shoulders and back muscles,” my ego chirped, elbowing me in the ribs. “Shut up, I’m trying to concentrate!” I whispered back.
At my teacher’s command I pressed my forearms and elbows up into his palms as if I were inverted and pressing my arms into the floor. Okay, I’m still feeling just fine in tadasana, and okay maybe now I’m ready for headstand, but…no, wait, I’m not ready!
I returned to the floor, measured my elbows, snuggled my head into my finger basket, and lifted one straight leg into the air. “Tadasana!” my teacher whispered, smacking the sole of my foot so I would flex it. Tentatively I lifted the other leg. For a split second I felt myself tip backwards and gasped in panic.
“It’s OK, I’ve got you,” my teacher said, tapping the back of my ankle with his hand. Slowly he backed away and before I knew it I found that I was doing headstand all on my own, built from a foundation of trust and strength I didn’t know I had. I tried it again on my own and couldn’t quite get both legs in the air, but I was very satisfied with that one time I was able to fully express the pose.
“It’s the fear of the unknown,” my teacher said as he walked around the room and gently guided other students into headstand. “That’s why this pose is scary, but just remember that it’s only tadanasa upside down.”
How often to we back away from projects, opportunities, and even relationships because of the fear of the unknown? How often do we freak out and run the opposite way because something seems so scary and different and foreign that we can’t possibly comprehend making that change? How often do we not trust ourselves to provide that solid foundation when things get turned on their head?
I thought about the last time I did headstand as a young twenty something. I had no idea that my life would take so many twists and turns into the unknown. I had no idea I would change careers or go back to school. I had no idea that a great love would enter my life. I had no idea that when that great love left my life and my world was turned upside down I’d still be standing strong on a foundation of trust and faith in myself. And of course I had no idea that I would be months away from testing for my black belt in taekwondo.
What are those “unknowns” that you are afraid of? Build your foundation of safety and trust. Does it still seem scary? Just try one foot at a time, one step at a time. Still scary? Rest for a moment….And then take a deep breath and move into it again. You’ve got this.