My inversion conversion, or I awkwardly ease into hatha yoga

The lanky guy in the back of the room had the gall to request inversions at the beginning of class today. Who does that? Hip openers, back bends, warrior poses…that’s all kosher, but only an a-hole requests inversions. Right?

Granted, I’m new to yoga. That is, I’m finding my way back to a hatha practice—I’m a born again beginner—and the idea of inversion poses is positively fearsome at this tender stage. I haven’t been regular about hatha yoga for more than five years…I since became a mom, started practicing Kriya yoga/meditation and metamorphosed my body and my relationship with it. And so everything, even sun salutations, feels foreign.

“I salute Adisvara (the Primeval Lord Siva), who taught first the science of Hatha Yoga—a science that stands out as a ladder for those who wish to scale the heights of Raja Yoga.”

– Prayer at the beginning of Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar

For years I’ve been attempting to scale the heights of raja yoga (royal yoga, or meditation) without accessing the ladder of hatha (physical yoga). One day last week, I don’t really know how it happened, but I ended up in a yoga class. And it was hard. It started out like riding a bike, but soon my limbs shook violently with both muscle weakness and the flow of energy into places long blocked. I was humbled, invigorated, emotional and sore. I went back. I cried during Warrior II. And then I went back again.

Today, after nearly an hour of warrior variations, leg-shaking repetitions of surya namaskara B (best corrective quote of the day: “Tuck your tailbone a little. We don’t want any J. Lo booty arches.”), and several breaths in dolphin pose, the teacher announced we could move our mats to the wall. She demonstrated how to enter headstand, salamba sirsasana, and then told us to get started. Admittedly, it’s a pose for beginners, and yet I froze.

“I’m a little scared of headstand,” I quietly confessed to her as she walked past.

“That’s ok,” she said sweetly, as though she were talking to an apologetic toddler. “It’s ok to be scared.”

I was 857 times less carefree about attempting headstand in yoga class than I was about taking to the bouncy castle in a dress.

I was 857 times less carefree about attempting headstand in yoga class than I was about taking to the bouncy castle in a dress this past summer. Both are risky maneuvers.

I followed her instructions, gathered the nerve to kick my legs into the air, expecting to feel my heels crash into the brick wall behind me, to feel strain in my neck due to incorrect form, to fail and go back into dolphin asana. I was ok with that, too. However, my legs went up, I felt the pressure in my forearms and, as I fixed my gaze on descriptionless space in front of my eyes, I observed my body holding itself steady, air all around me, legs reaching purposefully toward the sky. I breathed. I saw my vulnerability, my lack of control, my fear.

When I discovered I was actually in headstand, known as the “king of all asanas” for its many physical benefits, my upside-down squashy face flushed with glee akin to a five-year-old on Christmas morning. I took three more breaths, noting without question that I could now face anything in the world, officially, and brought myself back down into child’s pose, smiling.

My interior monologue: No way! I just freaking nailed sirsasana. That means I can do anything. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. 

I wanted to hug the lanky dude in the back of the class.

B.K.S. Iyengar says of sirsasana in Light on Yoga, “The best way to overcome fear is to face with equanimity the situation of which one is afraid.”

I’ve been afraid of a lot lately, not the least of which is standing on my head without a spotter.

Probably like a lot of us in the past week, my anxiety has been rising—in public places, while the boys are at school and any time I think of Sandy Hook Elementary, which is often. I feel more vulnerable than ever, and more acutely aware of my own inability to control other people’s actions. Coincidentally, we rented Horton Hears a Who last weekend and watched it three times in three days. My four-year-old’s casual pronouncement, free of any fear, at the end of the movie is that Earth is just like those dust specks, and we are just like the Whos of Whoville. In other words, we drift along on what we believe to be secure, dependable ground when, in actuality, we’re on a speck of dust at the mercy of the cosmos.

You know what I know after today? It’s ok to be scared. Because, as inhabitants of this earthly world, we can choose to face our fears, feel them and trust in a greater order–God, the Universe, Nature, Love, Self, etc.–even when all points to chaos. Maybe the lanky dude in the back of the class knew, consciously or unconsciously, that we all needed to flip everything upside down for a few minutes to uncover new perspective. Bless that guy. Because of him, I might actually be the a-hole who requests inversions next time.

Another of my favorite four-year-old observations, which has nothing to do with philosophy on the meaning of life, but rather the rules of the Africa house at the zoo: "Uh oh, Mommy, this sign says 'no eating hamburgers, no sippy cups and and no cigarettes in here.' "

Another of my favorite four-year-old observations, which has nothing to do with philosophy on the meaning of life, but rather the rules of the Africa house at the zoo: “Uh oh, Mommy, this sign says ‘no eating hamburgers, no sippy cups and and no cigarettes in here.’ “

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