The scene: Dozens of beautiful yogis folded forward in uttanasana, a sweet, salty sweat building after a few rounds of Surya Namaskar A. They're buzzing, they're bliss. As they inhale up to standing and exhale their arms by their sides, the instructor calls the next pose: “handstand.”
Suddenly, the anxiety is palpable. To be sure, a few students plant their hands and tip right up, poised and unruffled as ever. Most, however, tip toe into the bathroom, hesitantly skulk over to the wall, or opt to sit this one out and just watch.
There’s a peculiar mystique surrounding inversions in yoga. They are, by definition, subversive: to “invert” is to turn something upside down and put it in its opposite position, order, or arrangement. In that sense, they’re kind of irreverent. They’re also kind of misunderstood. Their many benefits range from invigorating the immune system and increasing alertness and focus to strengthening the upper body and even regulating hormone levels, but they also have a host of contraindications (some a bit more taboo than others.) And they’re scary! Making your hands your foundation? Reversing the direction of blood flow in your body? Defying gravity? It all seems so…unnatural.
And hence, their allure. I’m drawn to inversions because they agitate and perplex and challenge me. They don’t come easily. They make me work and fall and doubt myself, and I want to love them for it.
I recently wrote down some of my “yoga goals”—some areas of my personal practice I’d like to expand and affirm and grow. Needless to say, becoming more fluent in inversions was at the top of the list. No sooner had I picked my pen up from the page than a message from MindBodyGreen popped up in my inbox, inviting me to take part in Heidi Kristoffer’s ‘Effortless Inversions & Arm Balances Workshop’ at Strala Yoga in NYC. If you believe, as I do, that we are all artistic geniuses weaving our thoughts, actions, and intentions into the tapestry of our experience—creating the world we wish to live in—then you see why registering for the workshop was a no-brainer.
By the time I left the studio and stepped out onto Broadway, I was exhausted. And exhilarated. And, admittedly, slightly disappointed. I had flipped and flown and glided into some of my all-time favorite asanas: visvamitrasana, bakasana, and astavakrasana, to name a few. I had tumbled and laughed and strengthened my core and made guttural karate-chop noises (yes, really!) I had a blast. But I still hadn’t nailed handstand.
Until the next day, that is.
This time, when my teacher smiled and told the class to play around with the pose, I made my way to the wall (neither hesitant nor skulking) and kicked straight up. Perfectly? No. More fluidly, more consciously, more confidently than two days ago? Absolutely.
I was reminded, then, of why inversions are such apt metaphors for our lives off the mat. Turning ourselves upside down offers immense benefits to our physical bodies, but it does something more, too. It radically alters our perspective, quite literally changing the way we view the world around us. I entered Heidi’s amazingly playful, light-hearted workshop expecting radical…and immediate!...results. But real change unfolds incrementally, over time. We don’t plant a seed one day and despair when it doesn’t bear fruit the next. In order to learn how to stand on my hands, I first needed to turn my impatience on its head and embrace the process of gradual growth.
Could any of your thought patterns use a good flipping? Go ahead, invert your world.
*Namaste to my fellow Shins fans