A personal account of how I learned to flip my fear of going upside down and incorporate inversions in a fun and playful practice.
“Take your mats against the wall.”
First comes anxiety, waves and waves of it. Then comes anticipation. “Wait, are we using the wall to cool down? Or are we using it to go upside down? What will we use the wall for? Is it really a necessary addition to the practice?” These are but snippets of even longer conversations I would have with myself in class.
During the early stages of my yoga practice, I dreaded the thought of going upside down. I was easily triggered by it. After all, inversions are physically challenging and demanding. They are unfamiliar to me and my body. And while they certainly look pretty in pictures, they felt dangerous even to attempt. What if I fall out of it? I could hit my head. I could injure myself. Even worse, what if people laugh at me? What if they judge me?
Everything that I felt could easily be lumped up into one statement, particularly one that I was also hesitant to accept back then: I am afraid of going upside down.
And while fear may be a potent emotion to stop someone from attempting to do something, in the case of inversions, I discovered that, at least for me, it was more of a response to much more pertinent things or questions. I was fearful because it was something foreign. I was fearful because I did not know how to get into it. I was fearful because I did not know what to do when I am actually in it. I was fearful because I feel like my body was not ready yet. I was fearful because it was disorienting to be upside down.
But instead of stopping completely, I learned, as my teachers would always remind me, to simply appear on the mat and continue to do so, especially on days when the fear was too paralyzing. Through it, I have discovered things that really helped me turn my fear into something fun and something that I now enjoy practicing.
- Patience and Perseverance
Professional gymnasts start their handstand training at a very young age, and even they take years to get comfortable standing on their hands and being upside down. The majority of us, on the other hand, step on the mat without any knowledge or experience at all of being upside down. And so I learned to practice patience. If I do not get it on the first try, then there will be tomorrow to try again. If not tomorrow, there will be next week, next month, and next year. It was slow and gradual, but I started to enjoy the journey towards inversions as soon as I took the pressure of getting into a headstand or handstand right away. Again, I simply showed up and tried my very best.
- Progression and Play
“Okay, forget about the final pose or the final product. How do I slowly build that pose from the ground up?” That shifted things for me. I started to really put aside the fear of going upside because I looked around and discovered that there were ways to prepare and progress to it without having to be upside down immediately. More importantly, progressions allowed me to do things realistic to where I was at. For the first time, the practice towards inverting was working for me, not me working too hard for the practice. Not to be mistaken though, the progressions I practiced were certainly challenging (some arguably even more challenging than the final pose itself), but they were doable and manageable. They looked accessible. I could breathe through the practice. I could pay attention without panicking. More importantly, I could smile and have fun without the risk of crashing if I end up laughing. It felt like I was just playing. And since it is hard to fear something that we know we can realistically do, the practice of going upside down became one fun, playful practice for me.
- Practice and Plan
Since progressions made things fun and accessible for me, it was not hard to find and keep the motivation to practice. And the more I practiced, the more familiar I became with inversions. I realized then that I can no longer fear something that has already become so familiar to me. It was around this time also, when I was committed to practicing the progressions, where I really experienced breakthroughs. This brought about the question: how may I integrate handstands to a physical practice or routine that I do frequently and more importantly make it sustainable? Make a plan! Make a 30-day plan. Commit to a weekly rotation of poses and drills for one whole year. Plans enabled me to log in repetitions. And it was through repetitions that I became confident. And it was through the repetitions that I was able to refine, improve, and get better. And finally, it was through those repetitions that I was able to say and admit to myself: I have fun going upside down!
Now, at the end of the day, being able to kick up to a handstand against the wall or hold it at the middle of the room might not make your life or mine marginally better, but perhaps the journey towards it just might. We might find that the very thing that we fear might actually be something fun and enjoyable. Our perspective might just change. So again, is it necessary to go upside down? If only to teach us just that, then yes!
Ron currently teaches FNR, Vinyasa Flow, partner yoga in Urban Ashram Manila and an instructor at Ride Rev. He’s spent most of last year taking teacher trainings with Annie Carpenter or SmartFlow, Maty Ezraty and has taken other trainings in body anatomy and mechanics. Follow him @ronhabla