April 22, 2011

Fall. Fall again. Fall better.

Photo: GilbertoFilho

The psychology of the fear you’ll fall in yoga—and overcoming it.

I set my mat up perpendicular to the wall. From my downward facing dog, I do a few kick-up preparations for handstand, leading with my left leg and landing on the mound of my right foot. After about five or so, I hover my right leg parallel to the ground before bringing it up to meet my left foot.

Handstand. Gazing between my thumbs, with the heat of my core, I take a few breaths before slowly lowering my legs back to the mat.

Ahh! “OK, that was fun,” I grin to myself.

But here’s the thing that I, and all of my students want to know: What is the key to doing this same handstand…without the wall in front of me?

The answer most commonly heard: You gotta let go of the fear, baby!

You have to commit to the pose—both to the idea of trying it, and more importantly, to the idea of falling from it.

When I move to the center of the room to do a handstand, a giant, cement wall pops up in my mind: I expect to fall, and so my mind keeps my body from realizing the full pose.

I remember, the effortlessness that came when I was seven years old: skiing black diamonds and doing back flips off of diving boards, I didn’t think of falling.

In my adult body, I expect to fall in these situations. Thus, there are few black diamonds in my life, and I don’t even go near diving boards. The reason, I’ve decided, why my childhood self was so okay with the idea of falling was because I never thought I would! It never occurred to me that I would fall when diving into a pool or skiing down a mountain.

My yoga mat has become my adult diving board, and I’m trying to find my childlike self to trust that if I just do it, the pose will arrive. I’ll land in the water, or at the bottom of the fluffy snowy slope. And if I crash along the way, my ski will just pop off.

Pop! Gentle. Effortless.

There is this happy balance between both trusting your body’s ability to do a pose (handstand, or any posture for that matter), and also letting go of the fear of falling from it. Letting go of the fear is easier said than done though. Perhaps we need not let go of the fear of falling, but rather, imagine that falling is not an option. Like childhood me.

I was talking to a friend about self-efficacy. Dictionary.com defines efficacy as capacity for producing a desired result or effect; effectiveness: a remedy of great efficacy. So self-efficacy, in my definition, is something like: capacity for producing a desired result within ourselves. Believing you can do something, imagining you can do it, seeing success = meeting success.

I don’t understand why the fear of falling exists. (Psychologists, please, enlighten me.) What I understand to be the cure, however, lies in one’s self-efficacy: believing the pose is there, waiting for you, when you are ready for it.

While picturing success in my mind, these are a few of my favorite handstand prep demonstrations:

Build fluidity and strength:


Hops to get the core connected:


Fall with grace, react with a smile:

No big deal, just a morning ninja workout:

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