October 1, 2013

Headstand: The Cucumber Falls From the Stem When it’s Time. ~ Elisa Malinverni


I am a yoga teacher who is afraid of doing headstand.

Who has ever heard of a yoga teacher who was afraid to turn herself upside down? At least, that’s the way it goes in my head, in those judgmental moments where I pressure myself to get over my fear already. Ever since I started practicing yoga consistently, I have been doing inversions—but never too far away from the wall.

I did my first teacher training in 2009, and soon after I became a full-time yoga teacher. I just recently relocated from Switzerland to Taiwan, to teach in Asia for a while. I have done several teacher trainings, retreats, meditation weekends, sweat lodges with shamans, kirtans, kinesiology treatments—you name it. But still, the fear persists.

In the beginning, the fear was justified. I had one of those hyper-flexible dancer bodies and not nearly enough core-strength and shoulder stability to actually hold headstand. Years of dedicated practice have elapsed and thanks to yoga, my body has changed radically. I can do things I never thought I could do, like arm balances or jumping through to seated. My body is healthy and strong, with now enough stabilizing muscles to counterbalance the looseness in the joints. Still, no headstand away from the wall.

These days, I try to do a little bit of headstand every day. I try to put in the Abhyasa, the persistent effort, waiting for my mind to detach (Vairagya). I notice how much I identify with headstand. I have become attached to the fear. It is almost as if I was using it as an excuse not to use my full potential, holding myself back. It has long ceased to be about the physical ability to do the pose. I am obsessed with the story I have created around it (no wonder I’m sitting here, writing about it!).

My mind has formulated this connection: as long as I can’t do headstand, I am not good enough, I cannot be a respected teacher, I cannot be taken seriously as a practitioner, I cannot be worthy and/or loved.

And isn’t that the bargain that we constantly strike with ourselves: “I will love myself when I can do headstand. I will be satisfied when I get that promotion. I will love myself for what I am when I have lost these lost extra pounds.” But what about loving ourselves now?

The reason I cannot go up into headstand, is the ingrained pattern many of us share, that we have to prove we are good enough to feel we deserve to be loved. My mind is very happy to trick me into thinking it is about the headstand, to distract me from the fact that it is about the deeper cause, the fear of not being seen. Of course, the mind doesn’t necessarily want us to become unbound by fear. It has no interest whatsoever in losing its tight grip on our consciousness, but our higher consciousness senses what it could be like on the other side. It’s like losing your training wheels.

Why would you give up that safety? Only after you’ve tasted the freedom of riding a bike without training wheels, you will understand why. But first you need to take the leap of faith, literally.

In other words, the only thing holding me back is myself.

Still, the mind cannot be gotten out of the way all at once. It is my experience that these obstacles clear out over time, when it is time. What we can do is persevere—tireless Abhyasa.

It is like the beautiful verse from the Mahamrityunjaya mantra: The cucumber will fall from the stem when it’s ripe.

You can water it, you can make sure it gets enough sunlight and you can shelter it from wind and rain. But it is not for you to decide when it is time. That’s someone else’s job. All you can do is do your best and wait for the letting go to happen. Trust life to do its share.

There are the days when I get impatient and frustrated. My nervous system goes haywire when I practice headstand further away from the wall. Sometimes I crumple down into child’s pose and cry. However, at the end of the day, this is why I love yoga. There are no shortcuts. The shifts happen when it is time. And when they do, it is like that first bike ride without training wheels, when your dad gave you that last little push and you just took off—into the fullness of Life.

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Assist. Ed: Jade Belzberg/Ed: Sara Crolick

{photo: courtesy John Shin}

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