How learning how to fall has saved my life.

Via Bernadette Birney
on Oct 8, 2011
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“Look at me!” I hollered.  “I’m DOING it!

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?

Ha!  Hardly.

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.

(You know–metaphorically.)


Read more of Bernadette’s posts here.  


About Bernadette Birney

Bernadette Birney is a dyed-in-the-wool, freedom-loving tantrika. When she’s not busy conquering the world, taking hostages, feverishly freelancing, working on her book, and posting on-line essays, you can find her practicing the art of life-on-purpose, and teaching in Connecticut. / Bernadette has had the good fortune of studying with the great ones: she’s a certified Anusara yoga instructor, and has long pestered her Rajanaka Yoga mentor, Douglas Brooks. Known for her poetic and precise articulation, she insists that you can maintain a hard-core yoga practice and a sense of humor, too. Her classes, immersions and trainings are steeped in a life affirming philosophy that will invite you into the exploration of your own potential. / Bernadette was one of the earliest Certified Anusara yoga instructors in CT, and continues to mentor the local teaching community, leading trainings and retreats. She has contributed to Yoga Journal, Fit Yoga, Elephant Journal and Srividyalaya Amrta. She is also a Lululemon ambassador, and the author of the quirky, award-winning blog .


8 Responses to “How learning how to fall has saved my life.”

  1. Great post! This is one I'll keep bookmarked every time I'm working my edges on or off the mat.

  2. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    LOVE this!

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
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  3. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
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  4. bernieb says:

    I love that, Dace.

  5. jbnorton says:

    You are such a yoga Maven Bernie (and, yes, the capital M is on purpose)

  6. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
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  7. catnipkiss says:

    I have made headstand my new goal instead of toe stand! Thank you for sharing your journey. (Now where are the pillows?)