Whether it’s on your yoga mat or in your life fear is an emotion that will come up. It will sneak into your mind when you’re going for inversions and when you’re thinking about massive life changes. It will rear its ugly and doubt-inducing little head when you are thinking about dropping into a backbend or moving thousands of miles away from your friends and your yoga community. It is there, always, in everything you (and I) do.
What I am just now learning is how to sit with it, how to accept it and most of all how to breathe into it and use it. It wasn’t long ago that I couldn’t even kick up into a handstand. Not against a wall, not in the middle of the room, not with a spot, not at all. I didn’t even understand the motor-skills that it required. I would look around in total wonder and confusion as my fellow yogis literally floated into flawless handstands (shout out to my handstand guru Paula Walker of Green Monkey).
It took me so long to overcome my fear of even trying handstand that when I finally started to figure it out I wanted to try it everywhere… as long as there was a wall.
One day I in a fit of motivation I decided to jump into handstand without a wall. I was in the middle of my living room and without a second though or a spot or any security in sight I kicked up into handstand.
I immediately flipped over and landed smack on my back. That was it. That’s what happened. I didn’t break my neck or my back or pull anything. I just fell. And then and there I decided I was someone who had to do handstand against a wall. That was the conclusion I scared myself into making… Until…
Prepare yourself for another shout out: Amy Steiner (one of my favorite teachers also at Green Monkey) called out handstand in her class (as she always does) and calmly watched me turn to face the wall at the back of the room (as I always did).
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Handstand,” I replied simply.
“Get away from the wall.” She said it very matter-of-factly, as if one plus one equalled a free-standing handstand.
“But I’m scared I’ll flip, I flipped the other day…” I prepared to launch into a story about the time I got the wind knocked out of me, but it suddenly didn’t sound very interesting.
“Well what if the wall isn’t there? Aren’t you afraid you’ll always need the wall?”
Like that Amy introduced a brand new fear to me – what if I could never do an unassisted handstand? What if I always needed that big white slab of plaster to catch me? How would I ever take cool beach handstand pictures? How would I ever practice in the middle of the room with the other cool kids? I promptly turned around and did some jumps away from the wall. Two hops in and I immediately flipped over and landed in a very awkward backbend after uttering a bizarre shout.
“See, you’re fine,” she reassured me (after making sure I was ok, obviously).
Life is like handstand. If you don’t fall you’ll never really get it. Safety nets are lovely things to use while you’re learning, but at some point you or someone in your life has to make you step away from the f-ing wall. Take a breath and look at what you’re doing and think about what scares you. Then find a way to use that fear – harness it and make it drive you.
Whether it’s handstand or some other equally awesome dream (like moving to NYC…). Breathe into your fear, engage your bandhas and jump. You’ll never know what you can do if you don’t try it.
Thanks so much to my yoga family for teaching me inversions and valuable life lessons all in a sweaty hour and fifteen minutes!