I’ve been an intermittent yogi for maybe ten years. Most of that time I considered yoga a form of exercise and stress relief rather than a spiritual practice. If there was a pose I didn’t like or didn’t think I could do, I’d either skip it, try something easier, or not hold it for as long as instructed. Frequently, I was a slacker. And while I was awestruck by people who kicked up into handstand (and unafraid to fall onto the floor in a heap), part of me decided it was a pose for “other people”, that it was too hard, I was too old, I’d never been a jock, gymnast or ballerina, didn’t have enough strength, balance, etc. The list of reasons was longer than my bright red mat.
That’s changed since I began studying Forrest Yoga at Root Yoga Center in Denver about eight months ago. The ceaselessly kind teachers are also relentlessly optimistic about students’ potential. They’re also able to distinguish between true physical limitations, laziness, and fear. So, when the rest of the class popped into handstand (against the wall), I was not allowed to curl up in child’s pose in the corner. I was given a modification, placing my hands on the floor and my feet high up against the wall, so that my body formed an inverted “L” shape. At first, my muscles burned, my wrists complained. Then I noticed I could hold that pose for 10 breaths without wanting to scream. Progress. But, one day, when my teacher came over and held me in that position for 60 excruciating seconds, I growled and cursed.
“I can’t believe you made me stay there!” I huffed, arms and legs quivering.
“I wanted to show you that you could do it.” Her voice was honey. Fuck you! I wanted to scream, but secretly I was glad. I needed someone to push me. That day, she earned my respect.
As the weeks went on and my upper body and arm strength increased, I was itching to try a real handstand. But, the pose eluded me no matter how many pointers I received.
“Your body can do it,” my teacher said. “It’s your mind that’s getting in the way.”
That did not leave me hopeful. But, the more I struggled, the more I turned handstand into a Promised Land for which I alone didn’t have a visa. Maybe I needed to back off, release my attachment to the pose, and let the handstand happen on its own time.
More weeks passed. I tried to remain patient and curb my envy as I flailed while my classmates floated upside down. One Friday morning, I overslept and debated whether to go to yoga at all. My brain was fogged and I didn’t have time to eat. Realizing I’d feel worse if I stayed home, I made some tea for the road, threw on my outfit and drove to the studio. The regular instructor was away and someone else led the class. About halfway through, she told us to go to the wall for handstand.
“What the hell,” I thought. I was still half asleep, my body leaden. If there was a perfect mood for an attempt, I was not in it. I planted my hands on the mat and kicked. My legs, stiff as logs, thudded onto the floor. Again and again. And again. I panted with exhaustion but decided to keep going. Suddenly, I was inverted, balanced on my hands, unsure how my body had managed to outwit my brain, astonished that I was still vertical, that I hadn’t fallen immediately back to earth.
I was delighted but could not claim mastery. It turned out to be a fluke.