I cannot have been the only wisp of a child who, grasping an umbrella during one windy recess on a playground on the Great Plains, felt herself beginning to unglue from the earth.
It did not occur to me, in my terror, to let go of the umbrella handle.
In my memory, I was looking down at my fellow schoolchildren when I saw a teacher come running toward me; she grabbed me by the ankles. In reality, I’m sure my toes were still on the ground and the teacher did no more than put her hands on my shoulders. But I felt the potential of lift-off at that moment and I was afraid.
Sometimes, in yoga, I felt a similar panic, as if at any moment I could unhinge from the earth.
For years of my practice, in standing poses I swayed; I stayed close to the walls for balance. For a long time, I was afraid of inversions, not because I thought I’d fall, but because I didn’t want to kick up into that nothingness; I thought my hands might lift, too. I thought I’d never come down.
Encouraged to feel light in Savasana, I shuddered; I swore I could feel a film of air between myself and the ground; I could easily see myself floating right out of the room, gurneyed by air, my hair dragging behind me, collecting lint from the floors.
When a teacher invited me to feel heavy in Savasana, and put her hands on my shoulders to ground me—or when I finally was able to absorb this direction and her touch—that was my ticket. It helped me to think of myself as heavier, not just in Savasana, but throughout practice.
I did this by envisioning myself entirely encased in armor, like a medieval knight. I immediately felt sturdier in myself in all the standing poses, under the drape of imaginary chain mail. This visualization was, and is, especially important to me in inversions: if I imagine my upper body sheathed and vested by armor, I feel sturdy enough in my hands and arms to kick up, sure I will not lose the contact with the earth I already feel to be tentative.
Once up, in handstand, forearm-balance, and headstand, if imagine my feet, legs, and pelvis to be metal-plated, I find I can hold myself, at least temporarily. Visualizing an armadillo-ed back neatly presses me deeper into forward folds.
Sometimes I think of my bones themselves as being the armor, and perceive the affirming weight of my skull plates, my ribcage, the graven fossae that vault and cradle the most vulnerable parts of me. That dinosaur spine, the trilobite of my sacrum. And I relax into that strength, which feels prehistoric and indomitable, and not like mine at all.
At the end of practice, I still often sprawl inside this armor shell, and the rest of me widens and sprawls, soft as an oyster.
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Author: Amber Burke
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Judit Klein/Flickr