The yoga world is full of controversy.
Hot or not; stay away from all inversions while menstruating, skip hatha altogether, or have at ‘er; is yoga exercise; what’s with all those yoga poses on Instagram? And what—good heavens—are we going to wear?
Add to that the recent discussion I’ve seen popping up about whether or not to teach headstand and shoulderstand.
I have been an active student of yoga for a little over ten years. I practice both of these poses, and I also—gasp—teach them.
When I was a child my body would lift its way into shoulderstand. I’d stretch my feet higher and higher toward the ceiling as if my cells knew something my mind didn’t, aligning themselves into this posture. Either that or I was unconsciously copying pictures I’d seen in my mom’s yoga books, strewn around the house. It was normal. It was natural. I didn’t know I was doing yoga.
A regular practice of headstand came much differently. At some point in the second half of my three-month intensive yoga course—the pre-requisite for teacher’s certification in my tradition—we gathered in groups of three under the instructors’ guidance and supported those that chose to move into the pose. After a few more weeks of morning hatha yoga and hours of daily reflection classes, I experienced the thrill of moving into headstand in the middle of the room. All on my own.
But what does my experience, housed within the 155 lbs distributed throughout my 5’11’’ frame have to do with others’? Not much. Is every body structured to physically go into every yoga pose? Nope. I can’t pretend to know what’s best for everyone.
A couple of years after kicking up into headstand with two course-mates at my sides I experienced the other side—teaching the inversion workshop to students and budding teachers.
It was exhilarating to watch some students break free of the limitations that had prevented them from looking at life upsidedown, but they didn’t need to go into the full pose in order to do it.
I teach Hidden Language Hatha Yoga. Sprinkled throughout each class are pauses and questions. We reflect in the experience of the pose and write down our responses. Breaking down the symbolism of the asanas is an important part of my practice of yoga. It is a process of learning to listen.
It’s what the teacher of my teachers’ teacher instructed. Explore the mystical meaning of the asanas, he said. Start with headstand.
What does it mean to have my feet rooted in heaven? Can I bend my will and surrender in shoulderstand?
I use these poses in my practice and in my life, taking my cherished beliefs and flipping them 180 degrees or keeping my focus on my heart centre as I move through difficult circumstances. The symbolism offered by these poses is important to me as a yoga student on the path of self-discovery.
I don’t teach the full poses in a yoga class unless I’m with a group that I know has a strong practice of their own, but I won’t shy away from the concepts. Yoga is about becoming more flexible in our minds. Often, our bodies reflect this growth.
While I don’t often teach these two poses, my classes almost always include time in one of the most challenging asanas I know of: mountain pose.
Sometimes standing still, not running anywhere, with an open heart and an inward gaze can be the most difficult thing we can do.
Author: Guenevere Neufeld
Editor: Renee Picard