For me yoga is a complete union of lifestyle and wellbeing, a force of nature that empowers our body, mind and soul to connect internally and externally, supporting us as we grow, learn, love and evolve into the person we want to be.
So far my yoga journey has spanned over 25 years…. I’m a slow learner so it takes me forever to remember the Sanskrit names of the million yoga poses out there. But I thrive on repetition, so once I understand how to connect with the asana, poses I can tune into how it feels to move with the breath, to release, let go, sink into it, withdraw from my senses and totally feel at one with my body, mind and spirit.
For many years I have had a fear of standing on my head. I just couldn’t bring myself to contemplate the headstand pose, whether it was due to an accident I had as a child, when I fell off a horse, who knows? Luckily I wasn’t hurt it was the shock of the fall that stunned me. I couldn’t understand why during a lovely canter the horse decided to stop and put his head down, at which point I immediately slid down his neck and landed on my head. It was a soft fall onto grass - fortunately no damage was done. I got straight back on the horse, coaxed by my friends and trotted home. But the incident left me feeling fearful.
When I began yoga in my thirties there was never any intention during my practice to stand on my head, instead I enjoyed developing other inversions, particularly shoulder stand – sarvangasana, an energising pose that boosts the brain, supports stability and strength through it’s many variations.
There have been moments during yoga classes when I have longed to go upside down, but watching other yogis inverting so effortlessly only heightened my fear of ever doing it myself. One day a teacher stacked two piles of blocks against the wall and proceeded to demonstrate getting into headstand by resting the shoulders on the blocks either side of the head. I just couldn’t get my head round it - excuse the pun! It seemed like a false sense of security using the blocks for support and I was unable to connect with gravity.
During my yoga teacher training we practiced poses to build stamina and strength in preparation for a headstand workshop scheduled in the last week of the course. During the workshop we practiced mini headstand, with the knees bent on the floor, then alternated knee to head, finishing with walking the feet along the mat to bring our hips over our shoulders. From here we progressed to using the support of a headstand yoga stool. Turning upside down with my head suspended, as if in a hole didn’t really work for me. I still had a fear of falling over and I wasn’t sure where my hips were in relation to my head, in fact I just couldn’t grasp the concept. I came away from the teacher training fully qualified to teach yoga but still not able to master the headstand – sirsasana.
Out of the blue one day I received an email advertising a headstand workshop in a local studio. I signed up with a friend and went along open minded. I spent a fantastic three hours of practice, practice, practice! We were taught a comprehensive sequence of warm up poses and balances to gain strength and confidence, including the crow and dolphin. We then proceeded to kneel in front of the wall, place our head in our hands with the back of the head against the wall and slowly walk our feet towards the hips until the back and butt were touching the wall. We continued to slowly raise one leg off the floor to find our balance, gradually progressing to both feet off with legs bent. Finally attempting to elevate both legs against the wall.
After the first attempt I was up, standing on my head with legs straight up the wall, from here I began to alternate taking one leg a way and then the other. I was able to tune into my core area, pulling up out of the waist, making sure my back was strong and supported. Finally I took both legs away from the wall and settled into the pose, it was at this point that the whole concept clicked… I had done it! I understood where my hips and back were positioned and how the gravity was working through my core. It was a fantastic feeling. I was absolutely ecstatic that I had finally achieved the challenge… pure bliss!
But this was only the beginning of my journey. Now I just needed to go away and practise, practise, practise. The workshop had given me the correct preparation, procedure and foundation to execute a perfect headstand. I had learnt how to face my fear and overcome it. I was left feeling elated, confident and excited. There was a new urgency for me to perfect the pose on my own, due to brilliant professional instruction.
Each morning I woke with renewed enthusiasm, eager to get to my mat, with the intention to nurture a gentle warm up, vinyasa flow and then the headstand. At the end of the first week of practice I was able to do the headstand in the middle of the room. I felt so proud of myself - at the age of sixty three I achieved a goal I had only ever dreamt of doing. The whole process gave me a renewed confidence in myself, a sense of being able to achieve the impossible. I felt more positive about other things going on in my life. Suddenly I had clarity, more vision for the future, life felt really good.
Conquering the headstand has been a complete transformation for me, in terms of how I now approach other situations as well as how I develop my yoga practice and teaching. I feel more energetic, positive and confident about reinventing myself because I am not afraid anymore of attempting the impossible, it has given me the awareness to assess situations without judging, to believe in myself and face my fears.
For me this particular journey has really been about ‘change’ rather than the actual challenge. It's about moving out of my comfort zone with the belief that we are capable of doing anything we want to, with the best intention, knowing we can find the strength from within to reach our goal. I will never again doubt the possibility that dreams can come true.
Sat Nam – I am truth
(My thanks to the lovely Zyenep Doenmez of zeynepyoga.com for her transformational headstand workshop).
If you find yoga studio classes a little challenging for whatever reason - not enough individual instruction, intimidating or too crowded, then a course of one on one tuition can help you to practice safely and confidently at your own pace. With the objective to get you to a place where you feel perfectly comfortable in your own practice and happy to continue your journey in a yoga studio class environment .
Annie Moore of Moorwellbeing specialises in giving individual yoga tuition as 1-2-1 private sessions or small group classes and individual meditation courses.
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