Bright and early this morning I went to a yoga class that I really enjoy (a moderately intense vinyasa session) taught by an instructor that I appreciate, respect, and trust. After the teacher led us through a few minutes of warm-up poses, she had us work on our handstand. Here’s what that looks like for me:
- Put both hands on the ground. (Easy)
- Step both feet back so that my body forms a moderate upside-down “V”. (Easy)
- Lift my right foot straight up in the air, as high as it can go. (Still pretty easy)
- Keeping my arms straight (this took some work over the course of several weeks, but is now manageable), hop the left foot off the floor (doable), and kick it up to meet the right foot. (This last part is moderately challenging; I can get it about 75% of the time)
- Now, the tricky part: Keep both feet in the air, above the hips, legs and arms straight and strong. And don’t fall over. (Really, really, really hard)
I spent about three minutes kicking, having my feet tap together for a split second, and then having my heavy left leg quickly return to the floor. Kick, tap, return. Kick, tap, return. Kick, tap, almost-feel-like-I-might-be-able-to-keep-both-feet-up-oh-crap return. At the end of this practice session (again, it was just three minutes long) I was sweaty and exhausted. And feeling a little deflated.
But, whatever. The class went on, I got my butt kicked (in a good way), and I delighted in the practice. Good stuff.
Okay, so we get to the last 10 minutes of class. This instructor ends each of her sessions with “play time” – which means each person can practice whatever pose(s) s/he feels like, and the teacher will float around the room and help if needed/wanted. I decided to give handstand another go.
I put my hands down, stepped my feet back, lifted my right leg, kicked the left, successfully kept my arms straight, tapped my toes together… and the leg came back down.
And then I had a mini realization: I was a little scared of crashing. I wasn’t able to keep my legs up together because I wasn’t giving my left leg enough power – because I was afraid that I would kick with too much force, and fall over and hit the hard wood floor.
Ah…. A very real, reasonable fear. I certainly don’t want to injure myself; and yet, I really want to get this pose! So, I had to make a decision. Live in fear but be guaranteed that I wouldn’t get hurt (but probably also not get the pose), or push past it all (both figuratively and also quite literally) and see what happens?
I took a deep breath – then went for the latter. Screw fear.
Hands down, feet back, leg up… now girl, KICK like you friggin’ mean it!
I did. I kicked – hard.
And I toppled over, and I damn near fell on the student in the row in front of me. (Sorry!) But I caught myself (albeit super un-gracefully), and ended up just thudding my feet to the floor in front of me [instead of behind me, where they usually land when I come back down after the kick].
Okay, so not super-successful… but also not that bad. Admittedly, it was a little scary – but not tragic.
I took a moment, let my racing heart return to a semi-normal rhythm, inhaled deeply, then tried again.
Hands down, feet back, leg up… KICK!
This time the force of the kick knocked me over my right side, and I half-twisted/half-fell out of the pose. This time I apologized to the student on my right (sorry!), gave myself a moment to let my heart slow down, and reflected. I felt like there was a secret to all of this that was super-close to me, but that I still needed to unlock. What was it?
In that moment, an awareness came to me: I was struggling, trying to force my way into the pose, trying to make it happen. What if I instead allowed the pose to come? Yes, I still needed to kick just as hard as I was doing before (my attitude won’t change the laws of physics), but instead of me chasing after the pose, trying to wrestle it to my yoga mat, what if I let the pose come to me?
So I put my hands down. Walked my feet back. Lifted my leg up. Then I put a slight smile on my lips. I breathed in deeply, and breathed out a delightful sigh. Steadiness and ease… just let it come…
My toes touched – and my legs stayed together and up in the air for nearly three full seconds! Holy crap – I JUST DID IT!!
I came back down in a quick-yet-controlled way, completely giddy with delight. I wanted to make sure this wasn’t a fluke, so I repeated the entire process – and I did it again. I held handstand for a few seconds.
As I came back down for the final time, the teacher approached me, and said, “Well get a camera, we have a yoga first for you today.” She smiled at me, and winked.
And I beamed back at her. Friggin’ awesome.