Winding down the WEGO Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge. Today’s prompt:
The First Time I… Write a post about the first time you did something. What is it? What was it like? What did you learn from it?
I think I’m going to write about the first time I actually did a headstand, for a couple of reasons:
- I have been writing some serious and sad entries lately, and I have at least one more planned. This is a happy entry, and it’s nice to have those too.
- Given some recent postings, it’s been on my mind.
Also, a disclaimer:
This is an individual memory rather than a headstand tutorial. Particularly because it can place stress on the cervical spine, I recommend that anyone interested in expanding their asana practice to include headstand do so under the in-person guidance of a trusted and knowledgeable yoga teacher.
I’d actually spent a lot of time — several months of regular practice — developing the requisite upper body and core strength with various asanas like dolphin, plank, and various arm balances. For developing bodily awareness in the shape and fortitude in my gonads, I had been spending a lot of time in headstand prep. That is, torso and upper body in headstand but with my feet still on the ground — and thus, one extra point of physical comfort and mental balance.
I prepped so thoroughly to be careful, certainly, but I also did it because I was stalling. I was terrified of headstand, thinking about it in my head as Potential Neck Snapping Pose. I’d never felt pressure on my neck in the prep poses, but I was well aware that there is a difference between merely placing one’s head on the ground and actually balancing on that head. One seems like it’s placing distinctly more faith in both my body and the laws of physics. (And I spent high school physics copying the homework from my friends, so my faith in physics, while not absent, lacks the bedrock of actual knowledge.)
One week, the class happened to be particularly small, and my teacher offered us the option to explore headstand. (She offered a number of other exploring and/or restorative poses as well — yogi’s choice — but this was the one I remember because it applied to me.) I moved my mat toward the wall. I wasn’t sure where I was ending up, necessarily, but I knew where I was starting. I laid my folded blanket about six inches from the edge of my mat.
“You are strong enough for this,” my teacher smiled as she walked toward me. Then she kept walking, leaving me on my own to decide.
I measured the distance between my elbows, clasped my fingers tightly, and pressed back toward dolphin. Then I walked my feet in and gently rested my head down. All of that with a careful, confident rhythm, like I’d practiced so many times before. I bent my knees in with that same rhythm, like I’d also practiced. Only this time, I didn’t stop there. I tucked in, my feet lifted — first just off the ground, then up toward the ceiling. I hovered there a second, shocked both that it had actually worked and that my neck still felt fine. My arms, shoulders, and core were working their proverbial asses off with this new arrangement, but I knew those were strong enough.
From an aesthetic standpoint, I know my first headstand was not particularly lovely. I overshot vertical, managed to correct, then continued to wobble for the five or ten seconds until I came back down. But. Two Very Important Things:
- I entered and exited the pose of my own, basically controlled, volition. I slowly raised my legs up, and I slowly brought them back down. I was, in fact, strong enough.
- I did not snap my neck in half. Always awesome.
I realize that it seems weird to end a post describing an experience with an asana by saying “it’s not about the asana,” but what headstand taught me is not about the asana. I am careful; I am a planner. For a long time, I have known this about myself. But sometimes I have a tendency to be so careful and to get so caught up in the planning that I never actually do the thing I plan to do — often because it seems scary. Sometimes, I need to keep going in spite of myself, to trust that my plans are good enough, that I am strong enough.