The challenge of yoga is as much mental as it is physical.
There are lots of yoga postures that most likely will never happen for me. I’m cool with that, but there are three I’ve struggled with that should be in my yoga practice—headstand, handstand, and crow. The problem is, I’m scared.
Each conjures up real terror. Most of you know head and hand stand, but for those that don’t know crow, it’s an arm balance: squat, lean forward, place all of your weight on your hands by balancing knees on the back of your arms.
It’s not easy, but most intermediates get that posture quickly. For someone of my experience, it should be a no-brainer, but it’s not. I feel as if I’m going to crush my wrists when I put all of my weight on my hands, which, to date, I can only do for a nano-second. If I was lucky enough to get airborne for any meaningful period of time, then I’d be afraid of tipping over and snapping my neck—or at the very least, fracture a wrist.
And yet six months ago I conquered headstand without a lot of fanfare. One day I was kicking up wildly without control, putting lots of body parts at risk; the next day I was up effortlessly.
I have no idea what I did differently on that fateful day, it just happened. All of that prep work I did for all those years must have opened up the door for my body to seize the opportunity.
I just assumed handstand and crow would come the same way, but they haven’t. I certainly have the strength, and doing headstand against a wall alleviates the fear of flipping over (in theory).
I don’t know if there are statistics on yoga injuries, but my guess from what I’ve seen in various classes is that lots of people make reckless attempts to get upward in these postures. I’m sure some pay the price.
I’m at a point in my practice where I have developed enough mental strength to know when I’m putting my body in peril. For example, there are days in the hot room when I’m too sweaty, or I’m just feeling drained and in no condition to do a headstand. In the old days I would have felt peer pressure to do it. Damn the consequences.
Recently it hit me that my fear dates back to when I was a kid. Not that I was a klutz; in fact, I was decent in baseball, football, basketball, and tennis. But those three weeks of high school gymnastics each year were torture.
I didn’t tumble, climb, or flip. Certain kids thrived during this period, and it’s clear to me now that many of those types are in my yoga classes.
I’m amazed at the effortless contortions, the sorts of postures that require strength, flexibility, and balance. It reminds me of when I was back in gym class watching Tommy Jackson do 30 pull-ups like they were nothing. Or Amanda Zale doing a floor sequence that could have qualified her for the Olympics. All I remember thinking was when is this class over?
And here I am, almost daily, confronting some of these same feelings. I’m not sure what this all means, but I do know that this connection to my past has taken me one step closer to doing both headstand and crow.
That’s the beauty and the challenge of the practice. It isn’t about the physical, even though that appears to be the focus. It’s the mental stuff that requires the real work. When you start to make progress there, that’s when true possibilities present themselves.