October 9, 2011

How learning how to fall has saved my life.

“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.)


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