March 4, 2011

My Struggles with Handstands: Lessons for Life

Adho Mukha Vrksasana, the exquisitely Sanskrit or ancient Indian language word that translates to the proverbial handstand, is by far, my pièce de résistance when it comes to yoga asanas or postures!

Pièce de résistance

For me, handstand raises the question of how do we know when to graciously surrender – as opposed to giving up – and when to persevere? Already, I recognize that giving up comes from a place of frustration whereas to surrender is accepting what is.

A few weeks ago, having gotten myself up into an unassisted handstand, I became so elated that when next I tried it, much to my chagrin, I found myself toppled over on the floor in gales of laughter. Over the years, I’ve noticed that whenever faced with a fearful situation from which there is no escape, my default reaction is to laugh. ‘Nuff said.

However, from that day forth, getting up into handstand, assisted or otherwise, had become a self-flagellating challenge.

Perseverance is tricky because it is a fertile playground for the ego. I love my ego; her greatest gift is to push me beyond the limits of my comfort zones. Like all of my other friends and relatives though, instilling boundaries is a necessary part of our loving relationship. Lesson one in the Handstand journey.

A couple mornings later, I approach handstand from a different mindset. Literally, I willed myself into it by calling on all my resources and energies. In this process, I realized that by having fallen out of it a few days prior, that I was still holding on to that experience. In other words, while I had indeed laughed at myself, I hadn’t actually dealt with the emotional impact of that fall. So rather than approaching this asana from a renewed perspective, the effects of the past were dictating my present and ultimately the future of my handstands. One needn’t be a rocket scientist to understand the correlation of this scenario to how I may be handling other areas of my life. Lesson two in the Handstand journey.

As I prepared for handstand in yesterday’s practice, an internal dialogue – nothing overly deep – revealed to me what was at the source of my handstand obstacle. Clearly, it wasn’t the fear of falling; been there and done that. Also, I understood the techniques involved so it wasn’t a matter that I didn’t know what I was doing. It was my fear of failure.

That morning when I’d fallen out of handstand, my woeful ego implanted a seed of,  “OMG, what if I never, ever make it up into handstand again?!” This failure fallacy, ever so crippling and irrational, sits at the root of why we may avoid persevering at our goals, objectives and dreams. This gifted revelation allowed me to abandon the illusions surrounding my emergence into handstand and reminded me to just trust the process.  Lesson three in the Handstand journey.

Being fully aware and engaged, I said to myself, “handstand, here I come!”

Starting in Tadasana or mountain pose, I then make my way into downward facing dog.  Once there, I observe my hand alignment. I adjust my shoulders by pulling their blades down my back. I check that my elbows are straight.  Moving my hopping leg forward, I am mindful of pulling my navel in towards my spine, thus activating my core. And then voila, there I am – in Adho Mukha Vrksasana.

Instead of losing myself in the celebration of my accomplishment, I invoke equanimity and from there, am able to truly observe and be in the moment. Remembering to breathe, I remain in handstand for a while, and then with graceful consciousness, I exit from the posture, acknowledging my Self by bringing my hands to my heart in Namaskar, prayer position.

Listen to your inner guide and never give up. As we surrender lovingly to our [perceived] failures we grant them permission to teach us whatever it is that we need to know, to transcend us to the next level. Lesson four in the Handstand journey.

And remember always, the Universe reads emotion and intent. Anything that is built upon a loving foundation can and will stand – especially on our hands! Lesson five: the ultimate sum of lessons one through four!


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