September 19, 2012

Lost at Sea in the Yoga Studio.

Photo: Jeff Turner

I lost my sea legs at yoga.

Last Friday, I went overboard.

Faced a fear and lived to tell!

I consider my yoga mat a safe haven. Like a kindergartener who pulls out a mat during rest period, I am content to arrive at yoga, take my mat from the shelf, unroll it, and step to it.

My mat is longer than my body and less than a yard wide. And, best of all, it’s purple, my favorite color since my kindergarten days.

The yoga practice takes place 100 percent on the mat. One yogi, one mat. Some classes can be so crowded that a person might be only inches from a neighbor, but each one’s mat honors a personal space.

The yoga mat is home to every student and to every asana.

The word, asana, has come to mean posture or pose, although the original meaning of this Sanskrit word is seat. Originally, an asana denoted a position held at length for purposes of meditation. But, today, the word has come to mean much more.

It is more than a position, more than a stretch, more than a balance.

Each asana serves as a means to open up the body’s energy channels, soothing not just physical maladies, but mental and spiritual ones, too.

There are all sorts of asanas. Standing ones like Utkatasana (Chair Pose), Garudasana (Eagle Pose) and Trikonasana (Triangle Pose); ones that exercise the core like Bakasana (Crow or Crane Pose), ones that restore like Balasana (Child’s Pose) and Savasana (Corpse Pose).

The one in which I went overboard is from the set of inversion asanas, including the one that almost did me in: Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand).

Many months ago, I set a goal for myself: Handstand in the middle of the room.

Usually, I would only practice this asana near the wall which would serve as my security blanket should I begin to fall into a back bend while upside down. If I begin to tilt while inverted, my toes can safely tap the wall, allowing me to realign myself, straightening my back and finding my balance.

To try for this asana mid-room, there is a part of our flow sequence where instead of remaining in a standing split, the foot on the ground can press down to go up, trying to find a few pop ups here and there with the goal of achieving Handstand.

I had spent a months trying the pop up during this sequence but found myself much more timid in mid-room than near the wall. Safe on my mat but without the security of the wall, I would place my hands to the earth, put one foot in the air and push off with the other.

Already several weeks or so had passed since what I determined was a fluke when I found the balance mid-room and surprised myself in Handstand!

In the weeks that followed, I had been unable to replicate that accomplishment and, in fact, had played it safe in standing split without trying any pop ups at all.

But the other morning, I decided to give it another go.

Without too much thought, I placed my hands down, lifted my right leg, pushed off with the left and slowly, but surely, found myself inverted for a nanosecond.


It was brief and nothing like before, but I felt it!

I got so excited that I popped right out of it and stood upright. It had delivered enough confidence to last until the next time.

The next time turned out to be the following Friday when I went overboard.

I arrived at class equipped with the remnants of confidence from the other morning, some coffee under my belt and a good night’s sleep. When the time came to give it a go, I kicked right up.

Then, what followed seemed to transpire pretty much in slow motion.

I would say I found the balance, inverted in Handstand mid-room, but really I do not think that was the case. I had what seemed like an internal discussion while upside down.

I’m up! I think I’m balanced! Maybe not! I don’t think so! How long have I lasted? Am I bending backwards?

In reality, probably no more than a split second had passed before my legs tipped backwards, my body followed, and I called out unabashedly, overboard!

My feet absorbed most of the fall before my head followed and the rest of me landed with a splat on the ground. Not pretty!

I turned onto my stomach and hugged my mat while answering my fellow yogis’ concerns that I was okay, declaring that I might need another month before mustering the courage to try this asana again.

With that, I collected myself and rejoined the rest of the practice.

Safe on my mat, I realized I was no worse for wear, and even had the fleeting thought that a month might be too long to wait to try again.

Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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