If you practice yoga long enough you may have the experience of a pose that falls apart. One day the pose in question is accessible, solid in your knowing, and then it begins to disintegrate. To say this is disconcerting hardly covers the canvas of this experience.
At first you believe it is an abnormality, something you’re sure you can fix. Perhaps another strategy is all that is needed. You focus on a different place as you execute the pose. When this fails to bring confidence back you start to look at other parts of your body. A small investigation ensues – shoulders, pelvis, abdominal muscles, limb alignment?
If your lucky all this fails and the pose disintegrates to dust. You begin to dislike it where previously it was a favorite. Why would I say this? I’ll tell you what happened to me as a way to shed some light.
The first time I did a handstand I went right up to the wall. From that moment on I was hooked. I would kick up wherever I was. I once did this at a door which opened as I made contact. The body generally knows how to fall out of a pose and so mine did. What happened after was a bit surprising. I couldn’t get up for what seemed like weeks. What was happening?
Getting up into an inversion is more a matter of confidence than absolute skill. There are basic requirements for handstand: core strength, shoulders open, hamstring length. I’ve assisted students in coming up into handstand who were fairly limited in these areas. Their shoulders were tight, they would forget to engage their strength in the excitement of the pose, and their hamstring length wasn’t well developed. Don’t get the wrong impression, I work up to this pose over many months with my students. Everyone must be able to do a half handstand and we partner in the pose. But the bridge between a half handstand and kicking up is not just the next step. There is a leap of faith that you’ll get there. When the door opened, my faith was shaken. That is what I had to rebuild.
This was a partial disintegration of my pose but not the one that demanded real growth. That experience came years later. I was in an inversion class. After basic warm-ups the remaining class time was in a series of inversions. Over the weeks of the class I was clarifying my poses and exploring my edges. One edge began to creep into the limelight. When I kicked up into handstand or other inversions I used momentum and my shoulders rocked slightly forward. When I denied myself these methods I couldn’t get up. What was a beloved pose dissolved into a mess.
I was back to the drawing table. My pose had worked using habits of compensations to give me what I wanted – handstand. You may have already guessed that I have tight shoulders and I over work my lower back to compensate. (See post: The Horse Ride) Now my goal had changed: I no longer was willing to just have the form of the pose, I wanted the teaching of the pose. This meant committing anew to the deepest meaning of yoga – liberation. I don’t always see a gift when it first presents itself. As in this case, I had to hit bottom before I could start on a fresh path. I wasn’t working just on handstand and the aspects of my body that needed strength and openness, I was working with myself.
My experience with handstand was a gift to look again at my habits and how they limit growth. I’d like to think of my habits as pesky little things I will drop next Wednesday or when I have the time. In truth they are ten headed monsters. When I hold this view, I give them the respect they demand. If I am sincere, my habit is a life lesson. To tease apart the threads of action, belief, association, compensation (physical, emotional, or mental), and desire (see excerpt below from Lovingkindness) takes patience with a good mix of self empathy. Help from friends is good too.
I have been back at handstand for many a year now but it is still a pose that offers opportunities of refinement. It’s my pose to illuminate how experiences on the mat mirror life off the mat. I can use handstand to observe my willingness to be present, my ability to deal with frustration, fear, disappointment, and success. All of life can show up in this pose.
So if you’re lucky something in your life will fall apart. You’ll have an opportunity to explore what has been stuck and how to grow. If you find some resistance don’t feel alone, I’m right here with you.
Anytime you’d like to share your story, I’d like to listen.
excerpt from Lovingkindness by Sharon Salzberg
“When we become lost in desire, we are put firmly into the framework of linear time. We become focused on getting what we do not yet have, or on keeping what we do have. We become oriented toward the future. To be caught in this concept of linear time brings us to what in Buddhist teachings is called bhava, or becoming, always falling into the next moment. It is as if before each breath ends, we are leaning forward to grasp at the next breath.”