Monday, March 20, 2006

everything's better upside down

yesterday san francisco-trained leigh evans (note to self: why are so many yoga teachers also butoh dancers?) led a very nice inversions workshop in the pure rodney yee style. this means that the concepts were grounded in iyengar yoga, but lacked the rigidity of technique often associated with that style.

for example, as you would expect from an iyengar basis, leigh began with prep exercises that emphasized how to find and engage the latissimus dorsi, serratus anterior, and iliopsoas.

as most yoga students know, the first two muscles are important to engage to find upper-body support when enjoying life upside down. the third helps you plug your legs into the center of your body, allowing you to find a nice straight line and balance when performing inversions in the center of the room.

all of these muscles meet towards the body's core, so that learning to find and direct these muscles from the middle of the body allows you to experience grace and control in poses like headstand, handstand, forearm stand, and shoulderstand. as well as, of course, to learn to do these poses safely.

this 3pm workshop was one of those rare experiences where time just flew. the class was set to end at 5, but we went on until nearly 6pm!

i had thought this would be an intermediate-advanced workshop; however many people who attended were newbies with inversions, so it quickly became a fun basics playroom. it's true i didn't get to practice pressing up into handstand from down dog as i had wanted, but actually i had tons of laughs, so i left happy.

even tho' the class ran so late, we never got to shoulderstand -- clearly leigh needs to have a second part to this workshop. she's a fun and knowledgeable teacher who can give the benefits of the precise iyengar knowledge without the dry and punishing ballet-master air so often associated with the technique.

as long-time readers recall, i am a big fan of being upside down, even tho' like most people i originally began with a crippling fear of falling. my eye surgery last year however limited my inversion practice for a while, so i took this workshop just to get back into the swing and lightness these poses can bring.

as each student desribed their feeling about inversions at the beginning of the workshop, the word fear came up over and over again. it's a shame leigh didn't have time to address this.

one of the most interesting things about a steady yoga practice is that it allows you to practice thought and behavior, and to demystify yourself to yourself, "to get out of your own way," as i often say.

when it came time to do partner exercises for half-handstand against the wall, i asked the woman i was working with why she was afraid of the pose. "i just know i'll crash down on my nose," she said.

at first this seems like a sound fear, don't you agree? however, i pointed out to her that she actually couldn't fall from her current position at all: her hands were pressing down into the ground firmly to support her, and her feet were strongly planted with all her might on the wall.

which did she not trust? i asked her. her arms or her feet?

oh my entire self, she said. i found this a very illuminating reply.

here her fear of handstand is telling her something about her whole life and her attitude towards her own being. likewise later, when she was in a tight downdog near the wall ready to practice hopping up with one leg, she again gasped with terror.

what caused her fear then? i inquired. oh i'm going to fall, she said. but you have only one leg off the ground, i said -- you are only in a downdog split.

i know i'll just fall and won't be able to get up, she said. so obviously i helped her up and there she was with her feet and back against the wall, her body against the side wall in sort of a little corner.

are you still afraid? i asked. absolutely, she answered. why? i had to ask. you are obviously perfectly fine right now, completely upside down. there's nowhere for you to fall.

i could fall down back into down dog, she said. and i said, yes, but would that hurt you? downdog is a safe place to end up.

i'm afraid, she repeated. of down dog? i asked. no, she said, i just can't trust myself up here.

and there we were again. i think it's a social thing, myself: many women are just taught, beaten down even, with this belief that they are at war with an uncontrollable body they can't rely on, a body that will betray and hurt them, and that even if the body were to co-operate, they cannot trust and believe in themselves.

but this rather deep and painful issue, altho' at first seemingly unrelated to handstand, is exposed by it. and this is one of the most interesting things that yoga can do for you over time.

i myself completely understood her emotional situation, because boy howdy had i been there. it takes time and a calm, regular practice to model the thought and behavior you desire through prep poses.

some people will manage it in 6 months -- others may take 6 years. whatever. it doesn't matter at all, this length of time.

what matters is that you practice the prep pose regularly, breathe, and while you're breathing there, ask yourself: what is going on? what am i feeling here and why?

then, i can tell you from personal experience, you will gradually lose your fear of inversions and come to appreciate life in reverse!

because one day you will ask yourself, what am i feeling? and you will realize that your fear is completely useless.

you aren't falling now, and you aren't likely to fall. your fear of falling is unnecessary, and you can discard it.

at that illuminating moment, it will tear itself apart at its invisible seams and drop away of its own accord, like a tattered plastic garbage bag that blows down the street.

posted by fortune | 8:02 AM | top | link to this | email this: | links to this post | | 2 comments

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