Saturday, April 4, 2015

On Headstands and Fear

Crouch into child’s pose. Interlace fingers, cradle crown of head with palms. Fold over, pinky fingers and elbows press into the mat, the head lightly touches as a balance point.  Stabilize shoulders, extend legs to lift hips, engaged belly, strong back, walk feet forward, press arms and shoulders down, extend one leg up...

…come back down before ever really leaving the ground.  The same script every time.

Hand stand? No problem.

Plant hands, square hips, bellybellybelly, kick off the ground—one leg, then the other.  Float to the sky, hold for a few seconds. On a good day, rock back and forth between fingertips and palms to fine tune balance before floating gracefully and cat-like back down to the mat. 

Try again. DO again.  And again.

But headstand?  That quintessential yoga pose?  I can’t do it.  Or really, I can’t don’t won’t let myself do it.

And yes, I know, I KNOW that all of these are simply “yoga party tricks.”  Yoga is far, far more than asana practice—and I work hard in my life to practice yoga in the greater sense. To practice the steps of the 8-fold path. To try to live by the principles of self-study and non-harm and truth and… and… and…

I don’t have a problem being the yogi (or the yoga teacher) that doesn’t “do” headstand. I have a problem being the yogi (or yoga teacher) who doesn’t headstand because she’s afraid of it.  Because, really, that’s the issue here.  My body has the strength. My brain understands the mechanics, knows that I am physically able to do it.  But my heart? My heart’s not in it. 

The problem isn’t the pose, the problem is the fear of the pose.

It’s like that for me in life sometimes. I build things up in my head to be far worse than they actually (usually) are. I role play conversations in my head and go through worst-case scenarios. I make plans and back-up plans and back-up-back-up plans. In my head I make up tragic newspaper headlines for the stories that might-or-might-not happen.  All the while, I find every possible way to make myself stable and rigid and rooted down, because anything else requires change—and change is scary.  Change is uncertain. Change is hard.  And I’ve had enough uncertain and hard and scary in my life, and I just plain don’t like it.  Or, at least, I assume I don’t like it. Because by avoiding change, I often avoid finding out whether something could be better.

The problem isn’t change, the problem is the fear of change.

The ironic thing is that I am a generally confident person. I've been called fearless more than once. But that confidence stems from the fact that I also happen to be calculating and logical and rational and risk-averse.  I find confidence from knowing who I am and where I am and knowing (or thinking I know) how events will unfold. 

But change, by its very nature, is disruptive and sometimes transformative. A butterfly cannot emerge unless the caterpillar is first willing to change

Acceptance of this truth—true, deep-down-in-the-pit-of-my-heart-that-I-don’t-like-to-acknowledge-exists kind of acceptance—requires crossing the bridge from rational and logical to emotional and vulnerable.  It’s crossing the divide “where courage and fear meet.” (Brene Brown, “Daring Greatly”). It’s going to the “touchy-feely” kind of place that I avoid at almost any cost.

In the in-between, it means setting aside my ego, asking for help and support and love and encouragement. It means letting go of the conversation in my head, of the assumption that I know how things will turn out (because hasn't the universe already let me know, in no uncertain terms, that I have no way of knowing how this life will turn out)?  It’s accepting that “truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” (Brene Brown, “Daring Greatly”)

In the end, stability is good. It’s a necessary starting point, but it’s only that—a starting point.  At some point, growing requires letting go of fear.  It requires accepting that I will likely stumble, I will fall. But I will have people there who love me, who will catch me, who will encourage me to try it again. 

And then I will breathe, find the strength that I know is in me, and simply have the faith to see how far I rise.