When I was a kid, I loved to look at the world while hanging upside-down on the monkey bars. My sisters and I had a swing set as well as a Jungle Gym, so more often than not, they’d find me dangling by my knees, my arms flung overheard, my fingers nearly touching the ground. I’d squeal with delight, swinging back and forth as long as I could before the head rush got to be too much. Then I’d drop to the ground for a moment before I’d climb up and do it all over again. It was a wonderful opportunity to see everything in a different way, from my mother’s flower beds to the old tree stump near the back fence to our Miniature Schnauzers who zipped around the yard.
No wonder monkeys are still my favorite animals at the zoo…coming in a close second after the big cats.
These days I’ve been upside-down a lot more than usual as I’ve been teaching headstand to some of my students who are ready to practice more advanced inversions. For a long time now, we’ve been working with down dogs and dolphins and shoulder stands, so it’s only natural that many of the lovely ladies who attend my classes will be able to turn their bodies upside-down this summer…or whenever...as I remind them that they have all eternity, so not to worry.
“It took me three years to get to the point where I’d even consider it,” I told them recently. “Then it was ten percent knowing how to do a headstand and ninety percent getting over my fear of doing it.”
Many of them can relate, although my friend, Helen, said last week, “I’m not afraid to do it. I take one look at you and think, I’ll never be able to do that.”
“So it’s not fear you’re going to work on,” I smiled. “It’s your self-doubt.”
“Well, you know I’m not so much invested in what you can do in yoga class,” I said. “I’m more invested in who you are during the process. After all, it’s just a yoga pose…and there are so many others you can practice.”
That lets them off the hook, but week after week, month after month, year after year, every single one of my students has slowly been progressing toward the King of the Asanas. Not that I’ve consistently taught it until this spring, for in the past I often said, “I don’t practice headstand right now because I don’t need to turn my life upside-down…the Universe has certainly done that for me. It’s more important for me to get my feet rooted on the ground…and stay there until I feel more stable.”
Hence the reason we tweak Mountain Pose in every class. If a student can’t stand upright properly, their bodies will struggle mightily when they’re inverted. Still, our journey into the upper chakras this year has brought about some swift evolution, and I find myself demonstrating headstand, then guiding a yogini or two in nearly every class I teach.
“You don’t do it the same way you did a few years ago,” one of my long-term students commented last week while I was sharing some variations they could try once they mastered the pose. “Before it looked like work. Now you look like you’re floating.”
“It feels like I’m floating,” I said, lifting my legs up from my hips, bringing them even closer to the ceiling.
“Where’s the work?” one of them asked, echoing a question I’ll often ask during a class.
I had to stop and scan my body for a moment as there wasn’t really any work. Not anymore. Finally I said, “It’s more about the mental awareness of myself in space. I put as much physical effort into this pose as I do standing up. Truly…it’s the same thing, but right now instead of being rooted into the ground, my feet are rooted in heaven.”
“I can see that,” the student replied. “And you’re able to bring heaven to earth.”
“Exactly,” I said, coming down and resting in child’s pose. “If your feet are your roots and the crown of your head is your heaven, then headstand is all about inverting your perception of what you see and how you see it. What you feel and how you feel it. What you know and what you can do with that knowledge.”
Helen gave me a sly smile. “And knowing your limits, too.”
Then again, once a student has the basics of headstand under their belt, I’ll remind them, “Now that your body understands the process, the fear doesn’t have as much power. So it’ll only be a matter of time before you get over your fear of major life changes.”
Many of them nod, for they first were introduced to yoga during significant transitions in their lives: marriage, the birth of a child, divorce, the death of a parent, retirement. The list could go on and on, for I’ve been blessed to be a gatekeeper as they make their way to what one of my friends calls my new normal.
“Still, headstand can be daunting,” I said while one of my students was contemplating taking her feet off of the ground and kicking up against the wall behind her. “You have to trust that gravity will support you…no matter where you are. Trust the floor. Trust the wall. Trust your own strength. Trust it all and see what happens.”
Within a few more classes, I was overjoyed to watch Kay spontaneously lift her legs and move into a beautiful headstand. For four years she’s been gradually making her way toward that incredible pose, although I doubt when she first began that was ever a conscious thought.
“All poses lead to savasana (relaxation),” I tell my students. “And for many of you, the last stop will be headstand.”
As for me, these days it’s usually my initial destination.
I’ve spent the better part of the past five years finding my feet, making micro-movements toward establishing a more stable life. It’s not been easy when my work depends on how many students sign up for each series, how many people purchase my books, but I’ve learned yet again to trust that I’ll always be supported, no matter what happens. And I am...not just financially, but in every area of my life. Meditation and prayer support me spiritually. My friends support me emotionally. My garden provides a respite for my soul and a wide variety of organic greens for my yoga students and myself.
Now I’m more than ready to turn my life upside-down so that I can shift the kaleidoscope of my perception, then encourage myself to take healthy risks and be open to whatever arrives, for it’s always much better than I imagined it could be. To be rooted in heaven allows me to see this world from a much different perspective, one that reveals the phenomenon that we are one and the same with it all.
Then, when I stand right-side up again, I can walk into this world more whole, grounded, and complete.