Four years ago, I fell straight on my head while trying to practice handstand.
The lingering pain between two of my vertebrae has been much more manageable, however, than the lingering fear.
While my yoga practice has grown immensely since that unfortunate March day—my headstands straighter, my arms stronger, my focus deeper—I have not touched handstand.
I modified with headstand all the way through an intensive month-long teacher training. I balked and flatly refused if a teacher offered to help me up in classes. The moment I felt my weight shift into my arms, the floor just inches below my head, my body would shake and I could feel fear sink its teeth into my throat.
No, I wanted nothing to do with handstand.
This week I practiced handstand almost every day. Against a wall, sure. And yes, I needed help getting up—there is nothing like fear to make our muscles forget their strength.
My arms were shaking; I was petrified. And then they weren’t, and I wasn’t.
For a few gorgeous moments I found the alignment I knew so well from other balance postures, my arms grew steady, and I stood (upside down) in my strength.
You see, I’ve gotten in the habit of doing the things that scare me most. It is a powerful practice, and after following it for a couple years I felt I could no longer excuse my avoidance of handstand.
A few days ago, I perched on a single wood plank at the stern of a half-built sailboat and thought about jumping into the water. Another enduring fear in my life, and one which I repeatedly override.
I thought for a long time, watching an unusual green-gray fish zig zag two meters below my feet, noticing how the longer I sat the more my reluctance grew. I probably sat—and then stood—there a full five minutes.
I could just climb back down the rope ladder, I thought, but I won’t. Because I have something to prove. Not to anyone else—the small beach is deserted—but to myself. I need to jump off boats, bridges (bungee cord attached!) and cliffs precisely because it scares me so.
Some people will always turn back to the rope ladder. I am no longer one of them. I have decided to be “fearless.” A better word, however, might be “fear-defying.” I refuse to abide by my fears.
Fearlessness—or courage, rather—is not the absence of fear; it is doing things anyway. The need to do things anyway is far more compelling than the need to turn back to the rope ladder. I hope it always will be.
And, of course, I jumped.
And so it is with handstand. Perhaps you think it is silly to do things simply because they scare you, but for me it is necessary.
Of course, the jump is over in an instant, and the fear dissolves the precise moment my feet leave the plank of wood.
And so it is with handstand. A week in, and my arms don’t shake so much; my breath flows more normally. I still need help getting up, but soon I won’t.
Fear is a terribly shy creature. The moment you look it in the face, it runs and hides.
Fear is a coward. Don’t be afraid to defy it.
Author: Toby Israel
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Wikipedia Commons