I was standing on my head in the middle of the room in yoga class, and I wanted my teacher to see me. For over two years, I had been putting my head and elbows on the floor, and faithfully “walking in,” as instructed.
According to my teacher, if I walked in enough, my feet were supposed to get light and effortlessly float up off the floor. No matter how hopefully I walked in, though, my feet mulishly remained on the ground.
Until today. Today, they had not-quite-so-effortlessly levitated! For about a second.
I toppled over like a bag of bricks onto the wood floor, and lay flat on my back for what felt like a long time.
My teacher smiled and encouraged, “you’re getting much closer.”
I scowled. I wanted to stand on my head, dammit. I was beyond impressed by the confident yogis who blithely inverted in the middle of the room. For me, circa 1997, headstanding-in-the middle-of-the-room separated the beginners from the mavens. I wanted to be one of those mavens. Badly.
I was only just beginning.
I’d started out thinking yoga would be easy. I was, after all, very flexible. I’d questioned whether I should even bother wasting any time at all in the Beginner class. Perhaps I should just skip ahead straight to Advanced.
Uh, that will be one rude awakening and a Diet Pepsi, please.
Not only was I failing at standing on my head–I was pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to be getting so caught up in wanting to stand on my head. I was under the impression that I was supposed to be practicing something called, “non-attachment,” which so far I was really sucking at. (It would still be a couple of years before I found my home in a yoga that’s not preoccupied with non-attachment and instead considers desire to be a very, very good idea.)
Also, this whole upside down thing? Terrifying.
My desire to pass myself off as a yoga badass, and hang with the cool kids, fueled me. I covertly began practicing at home. I started at the wall. At first I wasn’t able to haul myself up at all. They, I was only able to lift myself about once out of every hundred tries. Then once in ten tries. Then I pulled it off about fifty percent of the time. Eventually I was consistently able to get my feet in the air.
But I still wasn’t headstanding-in-the-middle-of-the-room, and I was still scared.
Buoyed by my nanosecond of balance in class, I piled up pillows and pried myself away from the wall. My heart thrashed around in my chest. Jeez, wasn’t yoga supposed to be relaxing? I interlaced my hands, placed my head on the floor, squeezed my eyes shut, and prayed. Did I really want to do this? Not perfectly convinced that I did, I kicked up anyway, and the most incredible thing happened.
I fell over.
What did you think I was going to say? That I stuck it the very first time?
No, I fell over and I survived. I survived to have the epiphany that falling over wasn’t nearly as bad as my fear of falling over. Falling hadn’t been that much of a big deal. It had been kind of been a non-event, even.
Oh–this is metaphor. Get it?
I would like to be able to tell you that post-epiphany my fear instantly vanished, and that I never fell over again. But that’s not the case, of course.
I still fall sometimes. Sometimes, when my body is injured or not feeling its best, I come to the wall to remove falling from the equation. Sometimes, for no reason at all, I am still afraid to fall. Yes–still. Even after all this time.
But mostly I stand-on-my-head-in-the-middle-of-the-room without thinking very much about it. I teach workshops to beginners who might not yet fathom standing on their head. When I pay enough attention to remember, my headstand has a special place in my heart because it was hard won.
Learning how to surpass my expectations of myself was empowering. Learning how to work hard was a good lesson. Learning how to be a beginner was a more important lesson still.
But learning how to fall has saved my life.
Read more of Bernadette’s posts here.