“Maybe the only thing each of us can see is our own shadow…not the exact image, but everything reversed or upside down.”
~ Chuck Palahniuk
As a child, I was the kid who lived life in a constant state of terror.
You know the kind of kid I’m talking about. That little kid who always refuses to try new things, climb trees, do cart-wheels, stand on their head, ride roller-coasters, play sports, etc.
The kind of kid who spends most of his or her time reading a book or, gulp, watching television.
Yes, I know, I know; I spent most of my childhood reading books, watching movies and television shows, but hey, I was terrified of the world, cut me some slack. Let’s be completely honest here: I am completely geeky and dorky and will never surrender my right to submerge myself into a story. So don’t expect me to put those books or movies down anytime soon.
Ahem, I digress.
Yup, that little wimp was me—in fact, that little wimp is still me in so many ways.
Not that I don’t enjoy a good roller coaster nowadays, or that I can’t fathom the idea of trying something new. But, in falling in love with my yoga practice I have discovered a plethora of things that still terrify me. Most of which have actually got more to do with my mind and soul than my physical body. Just how have I come to this discovery?
I have come face to face with inversions.
Yup, those wonderful inversions that so many relish, adore and master in a matter of what may seem like mere seconds, make my heart race, my breath shorten, my stomach tighten, my jaw clench and my palms sweat quite a bit.
In fact, the first time I came face to face with tripod headstand in a led vinyasa class, I went into panic mode, and curled up into balasana before even attempting the pose, so as to remain safe while others around me took flight.
As a matter of fact, putting myself upside down both on and off the mat has been quite the challenge for me. But I think I am beginning to see the value of these magnificent inversions, little by little.
Let’s take a look at some of the physical benefits first. In the traditions of yoga and ayurveda, that when done properly, regularly and with awareness, inversions can aid a person’s body and mind heal from the very top of the head to soles of their feet.
Inversions allow blood to circulate to the head, which can lead to stress reduction, memory increase, a sharpening of the senses, as well as an increased sense of clarity and intellectual capabilities.
Placing yourself upside down can also be beneficial to clear out toxins, aid digestion and relieve back pain, particularly pain located in the lower back. Inversions are also believed to increase the cardiovascular, respiratory, endocrine and lymphatic systems’ functionality, which can help keep you healthy and youthful longer than someone who never ever goes upside down.
Either way you look at it, inversions can do wonders for your body. What is truly astounding to me is the way inversions can help change your physiological and emotional views.
Actually, according to yogic and ayurvedic texts, the concept behind inversions is also that of viparita karani (legs-up-the-wall), or opposite process; this is the ability to see the world from a different perspective.
So, physically, you are upside down, looking at the world from a seemingly abnormal or different view. And yet, the same can be said about the mental and spiritual side. Once you turn yourself upside down, a wonderful journey begins. A journey where not only is your body getting stronger, cleaner, and even clearer, but your mind and soul are getting the chance to see things in a different way, a chance to be open to the possibility that whatever you thought you knew for certain about x, y or z is really all about a, b or c.
Looking at yourself, your life and your whole world from an inverted position, can help you conquer fears, be open to change and decrease judgement.
It is said that one who can learn to master sirsasana (headstand) can learn to conquer his or her fears. The first time I heard this, I immediately ran to my mat and attempted the king of all poses. Sure, I ended up slamming down onto the floor, but I felt so joyful at the fact that I had attempted such a feat, me the fearful child, that it didn’t matter to me.
The second my feet were above my head (before I slammed into the ground) I knew that I was ready for a change.
I knew, somehow, that through my inversion practice, I was going to look fear in the eye and gently push right past it.
And so, heart pudding, breath catching, palms sweating and stomach knotting up, I tried once more. I continued to try day after day, month after month, year after year, until one day, while enjoying a lovely outdoors practice, up I went and up I stayed.
I was so excited, I ran inside my house and got my camera; I set the automatic timer and assumed sirsasana pose until my heart was content. I had to document the triumphant moment in case the little yogic fairies decided to come in the middle of the night and take my new super power away.
I must have come up 10, or 12 times for about three to five breaths at a time, just enough to let the camera shoot the memorable moment accurately. And each time I went up, my heart soared, and leaped and said to my fears,
“I see you, I know you, and I am stable, open and loving enough to gently walk right past you. So please, move aside.”
Ever since then, I have noticed just how big of a mental and emotional achievement this was for me. Sure, I needed to work on arm and core strength, along with some breath control and leg control, but for me, the real challenge was to actually allow myself to look past the fear (fear of injury, fear of pain, fear of inadequacy, fear of humiliation, fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, etc) and simply trust that I would survive it all.
And the bigger challenge was to allow that lesson to transfer off my mat and into my daily life.
It was a learning game. A game where every time my feet were up in the air, where they are “not meant” to be, I could take some time to think of how differently my world would look like if I stopped putting it in a box.
If I stopped judging and making assumptions and anticipating.
Every inversion brought about a new opportunity to see myself under a different light, a chance to change the perspective of my entire universe, and so, I fell in love with inversions.
Until I met adho mukha vrksasana (handstand) and this inversion had a whole new set of fears attached to it: fear of falling, fear of breaking my nose, fear of not being good enough, fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of self-sacrifice and on and on.
And every time I practice adho mukha vrksasana, though not yet mastered, I am receiving a gift. A chance to begin to heal and change all kinds of fears with in me. Fears I am aware of, and fears still unknown. I am able to approach them all gently, and move right past them, one at a time.
And it is all because I was willing to look at my universe in an unconventional way…the upside down way.
Are you willing to change your perspective?
“The world is wrong side up. It needs to be turned upside down in order to be right side up. “
~ Billy Sunday
Falling in love with yoga was Sapha’s destiny from the second she stepped onto her mat for the first time in 2008. From this moment on, Sapha began to study as much as she could about yoga, researching and reading endlessly. In this search for knowledge and growth, she realized her practice was more than just asana; it was a direct route to self-discovery and connectivity to every aspect of her self. It was at this point that Sapha began a deeper journey into the heart of yoga and the ability to open up to grace. Feeling joyous about having found the gift of yoga, Sapha feels deeply called to share this practice, and its many lessons with others, and completes her 200 hr yoga teacher certification with Lex Gillan at The Yoga Institute of Houston Texas in 2011. Sapha is now a vinyasa yoga teacher at Cherry Blossom Yoga in Spring TX, Houston Yoga & Ayurvedic Wellness Center in Cypress TX and Lifetime Lake Houston in Humble TX. She remains forever the seeker and the student of this practice and wants nothing more than to share the gift of yoga and all its lessons with the world.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise